George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘Muslims

STAY OUT OF THE LINE OF FIRE

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The USA has not been blessed with leaders with a clear-eyed, long-term geopolitical view of the interests of the country for decades, and that record, along with the consistent ineptitude of the present administration, makes inaction preferable to action on a number of fronts. Iraq is descending into a chaotic civil war, due to the precipitous disengagement of the Obama administration and a total lack of strategic vision. There is no question that the blunders of the Bush administration are responsible for instigating these problems, but in that case at least half the blame belongs to Saddam Hussein himself for so successfully faking WMD capabilities in order to be perceived as a more formidable force in the region. That posture backfired, as did his removal. Sadaam was an awful dictator, but he counterbalanced the equally odious Iranian regime, which became the principal beneficiary of his demise. Broader strategic thinking would have made that outcome obvious. 

More importantly, Sadaam was a secular leader who checked religious extremism as long as he was in power. The same dynamic is at work in Syria now, where the US currently has zero credibility or respect, having drawn a  “line in the sand,” which it then ignored.  A wiser, long-term geopolitical understanding would have informed us of the saliency of the religious extremism in the two branches of Islam, and guided our strategic thinking accordingly. This is a long term, historic conflict that could still last centuries. Do we want to be part of that? At this stage, given the bumbling proclivities of our leaders, I think the best course for the US is to use this as an opportunity to get out of the line of fire. By that I mean ceasing to be enemy number one to extremists on both sides of the Islamic rift.  We have managed to fumble our way into that position, and it is now time to extricate ourselves. 

There are many countries in the world with an “Islamic problem,” meaning either a restive minority population or conflict with an aggressive neighbor. The US is not one of them, and a cursory examination of global borders makes that obvious. There is no inherent reason for the US to be at odds with any of these players, but for inserting ourselves into their affairs. Contrary to the beliefs of some on the left, it’s not about oil. We are more self-sufficient in this hemisphere than most other countries, and would be even more so but for the anti-energy policies of this administration, which sooner or later will be undone. The people who depend on mideast oil are the Japanese, the Europeans, and increasingly, the Chinese. Consequently what happens in the area is of far more consequence for them than it is for us. 

As for cultural conflict, Europe has a large, unassimilated Muslim population. Russia, and even China have restive Muslim minorities. Thus, the problems are far more acute for them, so why should the US wind up being the Great Satan? Bin Laden (who primarily targeted the US for stationing forces in Saudi Arabia, which are now gone) is dead and most of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack are accounted for. The Muslims are not our problem, and the more we disengage from conflict with them the less we would be targeted. Their main goal is obtaining power within the Islamic world. They are basically a headache for the existing regimes, who until now have managed to deflect such hostility onto the west. We are not sufficiently ruthless for this kind of conflict.

This does not mean cutting and running, but making a realistic policy that in essence says you don’t bother us and we won’t bother you, for if you do you will be annihilated with overwhelming force.  We would basically make an offer they couldn’t refuse. Let the CIA do its job for a change and come up with accurate information on these movements. Given the nature of the present administration I do not see a better path. 

We have paid dearly for all of this, not just in lives and treasure, but in terms of our own liberties. We now have a massive security state that is adept primarily at inconveniencing us at airports. Yet the end result is a situation no better than it was before, and given the instability in the area, arguably worse. We need to focus on rebuilding strength at home, where our way of life has deteriorated significantly. I am not suggesting isolationism here, but realism, as per Theodore Roosevelt’s axiom, speak softly but carry a big stick. 

 

THE WEST & THE MIDDLE EAST 1: SYRIA

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There is a considerable amount of saber-rattling going on with regard to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.  As disgusting and horrible as such action may be, it is hard to see how the end result is any different from being killed by bombs, gunshots, or fire. Granted it violates “International Law,” but it is unclear why the United States has to enforce it. The argument is that if we don’t, the law is meaningless, but how and why does it fall on the US to give it meaning? Nevertheless this action might be justified if it were to take place within the framework of some kind of coherent strategy. The problem is that we do not appear to have one, nor have the consequences been thoroughly vetted. 

Do we simply lob some missiles over to send a message about chemical weapons? What happens after that in terms of retaliation? Opponents have already said they would target Israel, never mind that Israel is not instigating the attack. If they do, certainly Israel will respond to defend itself, and then we have a wider war. To think that we can shoot some missiles as a message and then walk away is incredibly naive. The message otherwise can be reduced to “it’s okay to go on torturing and killing, just don’t use chemicals.”  If it is still about restoring US credibility it is too little too late, in terms of the President’s “line in the sand,” unless we are prepared to go much further. 

I would not oppose military action if there were a clear strategy to produce some kind of desired outcome. But there doesn’t appear to be any. The time to act in Syria has gone by. We still have not provided the opposition with adequate weapons to counter Assad’s forces, which we should have done over a year ago. Now it is not all that clear who is leading the opposition, and there is a rising Al Qaeda presence on that side. As awful as Assad’s regime may be, a country dominated by Al Qaeda would be far worse, and present an actual threat to the West.

That points to another law, the War Powers Act, according to which unless there is an imminent threat to the US, congressional approval must be obtained. Those who opposed George Bush for acting aggressively should note that even he obtained congressional approval before taking military action. It is hard to argue that Syria presents an imminent threat, so what is the legal basis for such a strike? These questions ought to be debated in congress before acting. To argue there isn’t time for that is ridiculous, given that the administration has let it be an open secret that we are going to attack so there is no element of surprise and the Syrian regime already has ample time to prepare.

Furthermore, we would be involving ourselves more deeply in what is becoming an overall civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, with Iran and its allies aligned against most of the Arab states. Instead we should see this as an opportunity to get out of the line of fire, which I’ll explore more fully subsequently. Aiding one side covertly is one thing; getting directly involved in an even longer war is another.

Our priorities are also warped. If western countries are to be involved at all in this region, they ought to be stopping the continued persecution and increasing extinction of Christians in the Middle East, which we’ll also expand on next time. Right now our only strategy seems to be to punish Assad’s Syria, but not so much so as to topple the regime, which presumably would lead to chaos in the region. The problem is that “Syria” is not much of a nation to begin with. The current geography of much of the Middle East consists of provinces carved rather haphazardly out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. This is one of the main reasons there is continuing turmoil in the area. The regime likes to pretend there is some relationship to the ancient Assyrian empire, but there isn’t any. Thus it is laughable when people in these countries question the legitimacy of Israel, given that their own countries are essentially no older in historical time.

 

 

Written by georgesarant

August 29, 2013 at 2:00 PM

ISLAM AND THE MODERN MILITARY

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The Egyptian military removed the Muslim Brotherhood government following massive protests against increasing Islamic rule, deteriorating economic conditions, and the near collapse of major institutions, which have become completely dysfunctional.  The administration once again was tone deaf when it came to facts on the ground. Thanks in part to an airhead ambassador, it has managed to wind up on the wrong side of events, a fact that was not lost on the crowds, which singled out the President and ambassador for scorn on their placards.  For despite the distress of a number of western leaders, this was not a banana republic coup d’état, but part of an extra-constitutional tradition relatively widespread in the Islamic world, from Turkey to Pakistan. It is essentially based upon the premise that when civilians screw up the government the military has to intervene.

It is important to understand the context and prevailing conditions. It would be nice if western leaders stopped mouthing platitudes about democratic government and instead recognized the dynamics in play. In any modern constitutional state there is more than majority rule; constitutional protections are also included, i.e. for minority rights. One such minority consists of Christians in the Middle East, who face continuing persecution in many countries while western officials remain silent, to their everlasting shame. Religious minorities are far more likely to be protected in a secular state than under a government that is religiously oriented. Thus Muslim minorities, for example, are not persecuted anywhere in the west.

In the Islamic world it is the military that has served as the guarantors of the secular state. This model began in Turkey, which is usually cited as representative of a successful modern Islamic country. This in large measure is due to Mustafa Kemal, the father of modern Turkey, who, in a remarkable departure, began what essentially was a process of de-Islamification of the state in favor of a secular, western-style government. The guarantors of that tradition were the military, which would periodically intervene whenever civilian government rule came near collapse, at least until the present government in Turkey, which has instituted a major purge of senior military officers. They can no longer intervene even as the government becomes increasingly autocratic, resulting in the recent mass protests throughout the country. But at least the Turkish government had the good sense to backtrack and make some effort to accommodate the protestors. In Egypt the military did intervene in order to protect the secular, constitutional state, apparently with considerable popular support and no intention of wielding political power on a long-term basis.

Why is it that the military is the bulwark of a secular, modern state in these societies? The answer lies in the nature of the order that must prevail in a large scale, formal organization if it is to function effectively. That order must be rationally based, regardless of dogma. A military has to be organized to achieve its objectives based on information and facts, and to have the capacity to master sophisticated modern weapons, communications, and command systems. In addition, functions must be assigned rationally otherwise nothing works. In a backward society the military is often the only viable institution with these characteristics, and much of the Islamic world is relatively backward. That is the reason this does not apply or occur in advanced countries, where we would not want the military to act in this capacity. The underlying population structure is different when most of the citizens are middle class, prosperous, and educated and there is a vast array of rationalized institutions. The more these characteristics appear, the more a society moves towards stable constitutional government.

Large segments of the people demonstrating in Egypt are young, educated, and middle class. They were chafing under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. But if people object so strongly to religious governments, how or why do they elect them?  When there is a large, backward peasantry they tend to gravitate towards religious parties, evident in both Egypt and Turkey. The reason for this is that people anywhere tend to opt for traditional rectitude when given a choice, and therefore those claiming to represent it. Thus, when people vote for Islamist parties they are choosing what they perceive as championing the moral basis of their societies. They only become disenchanted after the religious parties, once in power, make a mess of things because of the prism through which they view the world. When rational organization becomes subservient to values, be they religious or ideological, nothing works. Basic services can’t be provided, normal business can’t be conducted, the economy tanks, and government is perceived as completely incompetent.

These are realities that have to be taken into consideration when crafting foreign policy. The situation on the ground is usually more complex than presumed and things get bungled as a result. It’s time we realize that if the preconditions of constitutional democracy aren’t there, it isn’t going to materialize. That also means we can’t impose it from above or outside if the population does not have the characteristics necessary to sustain it. The truth is that most people in these countries are more interested in a better life. Only when they have some semblance of that will they begin to strive for democratic government.

 

Written by georgesarant

July 8, 2013 at 7:40 PM

THE FUTURE OF EUROPE

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In the course of little more than half a century Europe has managed to swap 6 million Jews for 20 million Muslims. The former were assimilated into European culture, and their murders were an incalculable loss as well as a monstrous crime. The latter are largely unassimilated, and due to “multicultural” encouragement will continue to remain so, while outgrowing the declining European population. In many countries they have the audacity to aggressively assert their cultural autonomy and are out of control in the most tolerant countries, i.e. Britain and the Netherlands.

The only ones who have really gotten it right so far are the French. There the state encourages assimilation, considers everyone French, and does not maintain ethnic, religious, and racial statistics for nefarious purposes as the US does, and officially insists upon a single standard for everyone. Unlike Obama, and for that matter, Bush, they discourage Muslim headscarves and other outward signs of religion in public institutions. The downside of this fastidious public secularism, which dates back to the French revolution, is that the traditional Christian culture of Europe gets lost in the mix, but is offset by a cultural nationalism that is peculiar to the French. There the damage done to much of the western world by self-hating leftists has been mitigated by an appreciation for and encouragement of French culture. This can sometimes be overdone with a silly degree of chauvinism* when it comes to language and new terminology, but they at least have developed policies that will ensure the survival of the nation, including family-friendly policies to support a sustainable birth rate.

Virtually every other country in Europe is facing a disastrous combination of population decline, unassimilated immigrants, and low growth. The only hope for Europe is the populist right, and gains in the recent elections show that the Europeans are beginning to seriously consider their predicament. For it is clear that to have a future European countries must again believe in themselves- in their history, culture, and way of life.

*A term that is originally French, originating with a19th century man named Chauvin who was known for extreme, over-the-top nationalism. Parenthetically I saw a comment by a young airhead referring to a man as a “shovinist” without a clue as to the real meaning of the term. How things degenerate over time! .

Written by georgesarant

June 12, 2009 at 10:06 PM

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