Facing the Unpleasant Reality

If, as now seems increasingly likely, the United States invades Iraq, overthrows the Hussein regime, and occupies the country, then, even if the wider plans for multiple “regime changes” in the Arab-Muslim world that some policy intellectuals have advocated do not materialize, America will still be faced with an unprecedented set of imperial burdens in Southwest Asia. While some good may come from this situation, certain evils inimical to our country also seem inevitable. Among them: a vast distraction of attention and resources away from our pressing domestic problems toward a distant alien corner of the world; an unwanted flood of Muslim refugees; a further expansion of the idea of America as a universal society leading and transforming the whole world with its universalist principles of equal freedom and diversity, rather than as a discrete nation under God pursuing its own destiny in its own land and among its own people; and, as a result, a further loss of our ability to preserve our nation against the forces of mass immigration, multiculturalism, and globalism. These and other egregious consequences of a military engagement with Iraq must trouble all traditionalist conservatives. But, since the war seems a virtual certainty at this point, as well as a necessary act of self-defense, it may be more useful for us to think of positive ways to limit the harmful effects that the war will bring, rather than simply denouncing it as a mad mistake or sinister plot.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 02, 2002 01:46 AM | Send

I too have nostalgia for the golden days of the Republic, but for at least a generation we are going to have do some “Empire”-like things.

Why is this *necessary*? Why can’t we just withdraw into Fortress America? It’s because the core demand that the Jihadists have of The Great Satan is the same core demand that the Palestinians have of the State of Israel. That we cease to exist.

We cannot co-exist with them because they cannot co-exist with us. The very existence of our culture on the same planet as theirs dooms their way of life.

In the 1950s the U.S. built 10s of 1000s of thermonuclear weapons and was willing to destroy all humanity rather than allow Godless Communism to destroy our American Way Of Life. Well, the Jihadists are fighting for *their* Way Of Life, and they have the desperation of men who know that their cause is lost. America is lucky that compared to us, they are lambs.

We must utterly destroy the fundamentalist culture that spawns Jihadism or we will never live in peace and safety. Make that FIVE hours of MTV rerun viewing per night for all Arab pre-teens!

(Obviously we need to forget the multicultural stuff and stop letting muslims in who do not fundamentally *want* to live in freedom/let others do the same.

Posted by: Jim Woodhill on October 2, 2002 2:37 AM

Take up the White Man’s burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine,
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
(The end for others sought)
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
No iron rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go, make them with your living
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden,
And reap his old reward—
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
“Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”

Posted by: Alex Sleighback on October 2, 2002 9:45 AM

A writer at the pro-war National Review Online reminds us that there are other ways to achieve regime change in Iraq short of all-out invasion and occupation.


Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 2, 2002 11:11 AM

Mr. Woodhill says we can’t withdraw into Fortress America because the core demand that the Jihadists have of The Great Satan is “that we cease to exist. We cannot co-exist with them because they cannot co-exist with us. The very existence of our culture on the same planet as theirs dooms their way of life.”

I was just talking with a friend who has a very different view from Mr. Woodhill’s, and from mine. She says that the sole reasons the Muslims hate America are our financial support for corrupt Arab governments and our support for Israel. She argues that if we got out of the Mideast and brought the Israelis to the U.S. and Canada (as Paul Craig Roberts recently recommended), then the threat we face from the Muslim world would completely cease.

When I said that this argument is hard to believe because the 9/11 hijackers would not try to do what they tried to do (killing tens of thousands of people, destroying the Capital and the White House) over a grievance; but rather that they were expressing a desire to destroy us as a society. She replied that Muslims don’t target Europe the way they do America, even though Europe is equally decadent/free as America. Therefore it’s not what we are (our freedom/decadence) that they hate and fear about us, but something specific that we are doing, namely our propping up hated Arab regimes and our support for Israel.

How would Mr. Woodhill respond to this argument?

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 2, 2002 12:38 PM

To quote Jim Woodhill again, the core demand of the Jihadists is “that we cease to exist. We cannot co-exist with them because they cannot co-exist with us. The very existence of our culture on the same planet as theirs dooms their way of life.”

Now I think Mr. Woodhill is correct that they hate and fear us because of what we are. But “what we are” is not just good things like Christianity, representative government, liberty under law, and a business economy. “What we are” is the Ally McBealized culture of radical individualism and destruction of all tradition that we are spreading around the world. If we repented of that, if we became a more upright and decent and less imperialistic people once again, then the Muslims wouldn’t fear and hate us as they do now. But, since Jim Woodhill is committed to the McBealized culture that the Muslims rightly hate and fear, he therefore sees remorseless struggle between Islam and the West as inevitable, and therefore he is logically drawn to a policy of “Arabia Delenda Est.”

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 2, 2002 1:19 PM

Two comments back I posed to Jim Woodhill the following question: If the Muslims hate us for what we are (our decadent culture), and not for something we do (our support for Israel), then why do they hate us so much more than they hate Europe, given the fact that Europe is decadent like us? Here is the answer. The difference between America and Europe is that America alone proclaims the Messianic project of transforming the world through the endless expansion of freedom, of creating a world consisting of nothing but radically free persons, a world in which culture, religion, traditional morality, family ties, nation, race, and all other historical and regional allegiances, will be erased or become unimportant. Europe does not represent that specific ideology. Europe is bureaucratic and egalitarian rather than radical individualist and expansionist. Therefore it does not threaten the Muslims in the way that America does.

Now, if you regard this globalizing Ally McBealism as what we ARE, as Mr. Woodhill does, then there is no choice but to wage all-out war against the entire Muslim world for our very survival. But if you regard the globalizing Ally McBealism as something we are DOING, and that we can (and should) CHANGE, then a solution short of all-out civilizational warfare becomes possible.

In other words, the Muslims’ motive for wanting to destroy America is much BROADER their anger at our support for Israel, and much NARROWER than a presumed hatred of the very existence of America or American culture. Their motive, rather, is a fear and hatred of the ultra-liberal, ultra-expansionist ideology and culture that America now presents to the world. And that is something we CAN change, to the benefit of ourselves and of the whole world, without abandoning Israel to destruction.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 2, 2002 2:33 PM

We should ask three questions about this situation. Two are mandatory: what are the real interests of Americans and the United States in this affair, and what are the likely consequences for the United States of invasion and occupation? The third is not, but is still important: what are the grievances against us that make these Moslems homicidal to the point of suicide?

The overriding interest of Americans is their security and that of the United States. That must be the focus of U.S. policy. To focus intelligently requires adequate intelligence, something we seem not to have, at least in human terms.

If the administration can prove to the satisfaction of the Congress (here satisfaction means a willingness to declare war) that Iraq has or soon could have weapons capable of posing an offensive threat to the United States or U.S. forces deployed in the region, then I’ll accept Iraq poses sufficient threat to us to justify intervention. The ability to launch the odd SAM or hose AAA in the general direction of U.S. fighters patrolling over Iraq does not reach the threshold. The administration has not yet made that case, despite Tony Blair’s best efforts.

Ensuring an adequate flow of oil for American needs is also an American interest. It is worth asking which is the better way to pursue that goal: invasion and occupation of Middle Eastern oil producers or conservationally sound development of the petrochemical deposits we know we have in our own country? If access to foreign oil is sufficient raison d’etat to justify occupations of sovereign nations, why have we not occupied Mexico and Venezuela?

Peripheral concerns alone cannot justify going to war. “Regime-change” in Iraq, absent the proof mentioned above of the danger to America of Saddam’s regime, is not a vital interest of the United States. Neither is the security of Israel, although that is something we should support diplomatically and, to the extent reasonable, economically.

There are few positive consequences imaginable, and many negative. The one positive consequence, assuming for the moment that Iraq does pose a genuine threat to the United States, is the removal of that threat. I do not think American battle casualties would be high; I believe that, feminized and reduced though they have been even since 1991, the U.S. Armed Forces would win the battle fairly easily. At what cost in Iraqi lives, military and civilian, is another question worth asking. After the battle, we face the prospect of occupation, supporting the puppet regime we install, and keeping Iraq’s hostile factions apart, all for some unspecified but likely very long period. Our multicultural mushmindedness makes it inevitable that we will admit hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of “refugees,” to contribute to the ethnic dissolution of our own country. Is the game worth the price? What of the effect on our economy and markets? What of our relations with other countries, friendly and otherwise?

Those behind the attacks on New York and Washington should be hunted and killed. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are legitimate targets. Still, we can learn something from what bin Laden said his complaints against the United States were, and the order in which he expressed them. The first was the presence of infidel troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holy places. The second was the role of the United States in enforcing sanctions that bin Laden believes have led to the deaths of millions of Iraqi Arabs. The third is American support of the “Zionist entity.” He said nothing about American cultural pollution of the faithful, although he and his ilk no doubt abhor our pop culture. He said nothing about hating us because of our democratic ways, uncongenial though he may find them.

If bin Laden reflects what Islamicists in the Middle East really think, they would become far less a threat to our well-being if we stopped meddling in their region. Of course, they would also be less of a threat if the idiots who govern us would stop letting them in our country. As far as I can tell, we have two reasons to meddle in the Middle East: our need for oil and our support for Israel. It stands to reason that we should make ourselves less dependent on Moslem oil, and remove ourselves, as much as practical, from the Persian Gulf and Arabia.

As for supporting Israel, we should, as even-handedly as possible - which is not to ascribe moral equivalence to Israel and Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. In bin Laden’s view, at least as he has expressed it, our support for Israel is third in the list of evils, behind being in Arabia and blockading Iraq. A poorly kept secret of the Middle East is that Arab regimes actually benefit from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it gives them a bogeyman to excuse their own failures and deflect popular wrath.

Pace such keyboard warriors as Perle/Wolfowitz, Podhoretz, Kristol, Kagan, et al., we must not degenerate into Imperium over this. HRS

Posted by: Howard Sutherland on October 2, 2002 3:13 PM

I think Mr. Auster has correctly indentified the root of Islamic hatred of the US and offered a reasonable explanation as to their relative tolerance of Europe, which is even more decadent, if anything, than America. The American culture described as “Messianic project of transforming the world through the endless expansion of freedom, of creating a world consisting of nothing but radically free persons, a world in which culture, religion, traditional morality, family ties, nation, race, and all other historical and regional allegiances, will be erased or become unimportant” bears a striking resemblance to what John Fonte labeled “Transnational Progressivism” or Robert Locke’s “Corporatism” (or perhaps a mix of the two, as I’m not sure if Locke considers Corporatism to be part of Transnational Progessivism or not) - assuming that the “endless expansion of freedom” refers to personal lifestyle instead of actual political freedom, which may well backfire if established in Islamic countries, given the evident popularity of Wahabism.

Posted by: Carl on October 2, 2002 3:30 PM

The begged question is what would Mr. Southerland consider to be sufficient evidence?

Despite so-called failures in intelligence it was not a secret prior to 9-11 that Islamic extremists connected to Osama bin Laden were considering hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings. One had only to connect the dots in order to do the same thing we ended up doing in Afghanistan anyway, but before and preventing 9-11. The issue was not moral justification of the Afghanistan action — it was arguably more immoral to wait, putting off the inevitable and allowing the attack that resulted in Americans jumping on fire and screaming to their deaths from our largest buildings. No, the issue was not moral justification but the presence of a decadent self-involved cowardly philanderer at the switch, for whom moral justification never enters the picture. If the Afghanistan action was justified in response to the murder of Americans then at what point would it have been justifiable to prevent those murders by an already-established enemy? If I knew that someone had killed or attempted to kill members of my family and was highly likely to do so again I would have no moral compunction about removing him from this world. So I think Mr. Sutherland is right to start by expressing the questions as a dispassionate evaluation of interests and threats.

What Mr. Sutherland’s post does not do is explain what sort of dot-connecting is acceptable in his view in that sort of evaluation, though. He seems to think that any sort of dot connecting is OK as long as it is approved by Congress. Certainly it is valid to discuss both the moral thresholds and the objective interests/risks, but I can’t disentangle the two in Mr. Sutherland’s post.

Posted by: Matt on October 2, 2002 4:16 PM

I guess one of my concerns, to state it differently if not better, is that after discussing at length the objective issues Mr. Sutherland then goes on to say that as long as Congress declares war it is cool with him. That struck me as rather like the folks who say that as long as the UN approves it is OK. It may be that for some people substantive action is fully justified by procedural formalities, but it strikes me as odd. Usually in the case of those who invoke the UN it is just a procedural way to object: these folks would not approve of the action even if the UN passed a resolution in favor, but because they view UN approval as a possible procedural impediment they invoke it. It struck me as possible that Mr. Sutherland would disapprove of an Iraq invasion anyway but that because he believes (I think correctly) that a formal declaration of war from Congress is unlikely he invokes it as a procedural objection. Perhaps he can clarify.

Posted by: Matt on October 2, 2002 4:26 PM

I agree with Carl but I think it may just be a matter of Europe being too busy transforming itself via the EU and the UN to be overtly imperialistic elsewhere. Islam’s unbalanced treatment of Europe vs the US may be a reflection of Islamic naivete and Europe’s stage of development rather than because of any important substantive difference between Europe and the US. Europe has a recent imperial-colonial past that is still smarting as well as an internal fragmentation, which I think in part explains its self-obsession. Once it has finished up being its own secular Christ it will have as much desire to be Christ for the whole world as the US, I think.

Posted by: Matt on October 2, 2002 4:42 PM

While Mr. Sutherland’s comments are interesting and thoughtful, I think it is too narrow a view of the question to take the three reasons that bin Laden enumerated on one occasion (on other occasions he enumerated other reasons) as a sufficient explanation for his motives in attacking America. It just doesn’t make sense that the Islamists would try to wreak the kind of crippling damage to our country that they attempted, including destroying the Capital and the White House, if it was only about (1) 5,000 U.S. troops helping protect Saudia Arabia from invasion (with, of course, the invitation of the Saudi government, (2) the economic sanctions against Iraq (authorized by the UN, not just by the U.S.), and U.S. support for Israel. An attack of such a nature as 9/11 expressed a desire to DESTROY us, not just a grievance over some discrete action or policy of ours.

The standard moderate/liberal/conservative explanation we hear from President Bush and many others is that the Muslims “hate us for our freedoms.” I don’t believe this. I don’t believe they would want to terrorise and cripple and bring down our society simply because we have popular elections and protections of basic individual rights and a dynamic economy. Europe has those things, too. So, if U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and U.S. support for Israel are too small an explanation, and if our general freedoms are too large an explanation (since Europe has those freedoms too), the cause must be something else. And it was Jim Woodhill who, in his call for the McBealization of the Muslim world, inadvertently supplied the answer: the Muslims (justifiably) hate and fear us because we are the generator and center of the globalizing radical individualism and sexual liberationism that directly threatens the very existence of Islam.

In other words, they want to destroy us because they feel existentially threatened by us. U.S. military assistance to the Saudi regime does not existentially threaten Islam. The existence of Israel does not existentially threaten Islam. Traditional American freedoms under the rule of law and within the bounds of traditional morality do not existentially threaten Islam. But America’s aggressively globalizing culture of radical individualism and sexual liberation does existentially threaten Islam.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 2, 2002 5:14 PM

After we drop Stern, Ozzbourne and Spears on Baghdad (we can at least allow Brittney a parachute) and overthrow Saddam, we could install our former President as colonial governor or Viceroy. He could establish a large harem there while as he supervised the construction of Arab MTV and ensured that “Ally McBeal,” “Sex in the City,” and other such examples of the culture were broadcast daily to all neighboring Islamic states. That way America’s most profitable export, pop culture, could cash in on all the oil money to be made. Not only would we control the oil companies themselves, but the legions of Arab workers needed to maintain and operate the vast infrastucture created would have something to spend their paychecks on. We can bring in Jocelyn Elders, Donna Shelelah, and the whole Feminist crew to handle the education and healthcare bureaucracies to bring things up to UN/CEDAW standards. Once this colony was established, (to borrow from Mr. Woodhill) “just let sex, drugs and rock n’ roll do their work.” Absolute control over all institutions would be essential - especially the schools and Mosques. The grooming of a home-grown ruling class would be essential though, as it would likely take several generations of “education” to destroy all sense of national identity. A Corporatist colony could eventually provide armies which would be used to overthrow any holdout Islamic states so the process could then be repeated elsewhere in the Islamic world.

All kidding aside, from a strictly materialist point of view, Mr. Woodhill’s idea makes a great deal of sense. Islam would eventually be destroyed - or reduced (like mainline Protestant Christianity) to a parody of itself. This process is already under way on its own. From what I’ve been able to pick up in news reports, Iran - the first Islamist state - is awash in drugs and prostitution. TV satellite dishes have sprung up all over Tehran. The Mullahs and Committes for Public Righteousness are having a very hard time keeping the lid on things. There would be costs for the US in actually carrying out some sort of campaign like this, though. “A-Bomb on 7th Ave.” might very well receive some airplay - but it could very well happen even if we were to withdraw. Islamism perceives all of America as the Tranzi-Corporatist animal described earlier. However, lest we bceome too sympathetic to the Islamists, we should keep in mind the terrible brutality and persecution they have inflicted upon the small Christian (usually Orthodox or Coptic) and (to a lesser degree) Jewish communities living there - even in somewhat secular Turkey. Like Matt, I get the feeling that supporting this course of action would be sort of a suicide-murder (which would come first, the suicide or the murder?) on the part of what remains of traditional Western culture as well as having a moral issue of sending something akin to the bubonic plague upon our enemies. While ackowledging that we may very well need to go to war in the short term to try and stop the Islamists (or their secular allies such as Saddam) from deploying WMD against us, I am convinced that in the long run, Transnational Progressivism and Corporatism (the enemy within) are the far greater threat to what remains of our civilzation than Wahabi Islam (the enemy without). Given the moral collapse of the US - which was the last bastion of traditional Judeo-Christian civilization, I think the only hope for overcoming the souless material beast of Tranzi-Corporatism lies in true repentence.

Posted by: Carl on October 2, 2002 8:31 PM

> Islam would eventually be destroyed

Not “would”, but “will”, unless the Jihadists can find some way to destroy The Great Satan (actually, I think we are a *good* Satan but we are not really a *Great* Satan .) The process will be slower without a MacArthur-style Regency in Saudi Arabia (the true linchpin of the Axis Of Evil) that imposes mandatory MTV-viewing, but it will still happen and the Islamists know it. And they fear it. And they hate it.

> - or reduced (like mainline Protestant
> Christianity) to a parody of itself. This
> process is already under way on its own.

Yes indeed. So all we need to use our military might for is:

1) Deny WMD to the Jihadists (or regimes like Iraq who are doomed to collapse and be followed by chaos in which their WMD might fall into the wrong hands

2) Open up their societies so the process of “Ally McBealization” will proceed more rapidly as we dismantle the institutions that sustain their fundamentalist culture (e.g., the Madrasahs), and introduce ones that disseminates ours (contraception and abortion-on-demand for 14-year-old girls with no parental notification, much less consent).

Sex, Drugs, and Rock&Roll are fearsome “cultural munitions”. But they brought this “Clash Of Civilizations” upon themselves. They started this fight, and we and our British ally (not Blair, Britney ) will finish it!

It’s dastardly, but still less cruel that the fire-bombing of Tokyo. (Somewhat, anyway .)

Posted by: Jim Woodhill on October 3, 2002 2:06 AM

Larry Auster comments:

> …
> … but something specific that we are
> doing, namely our propping up hated
> Arab regimes and our support for Israel.
> How would Mr. Woodhill respond to this
> argument?

Jim Woodhill here. I will let Bernard Lewis respond for me:


Targeted by a History of Hatred

The United States is now the unquestioned leader of the free world,
also known as the infidels.

By Bernard Lewis

Tuesday, September 10, 2002; Page A15

The immediate, general reaction as the facts of what happened on Sept. 11 became known was one of utter astonishment. Most people in the United States and more generally in the Western world find it impossible to understand the motives and purposes that drove the perpetrators of these crimes, those who sent them and those who applauded them with song and dance in the streets. We understand people who are willing to die — even to face certain death — for a cause in which they believe. The kamikaze pilots of Japan are an obvious example. But that was in wartime, and directed against military objectives. Many of our own people, in wartime, willingly sacrifice their lives for their country. Even in peacetime, on that same Sept. 11, firefighters and rescue teams risked, and many gave, their lives. But that was to save other people, not to kill them. That we understand. Why would anyone be willing to sacrifice his own life to accomplish the random slaughter of other people selected merely by the place where they happen to be, irrespective of age, sex, nationality and religion? An earlier example of the same indiscriminate slaughter was the attack by suicide truck-bombers on two American embassies in East Africa in August 1998, where, to make a point and to kill 12 American diplomats, the terrorists were willing to sacrifice 19 suicide “martyrs” and slaughter more than 200 Africans, many of them Muslims, who merely happened to be in the neighborhood at the wrong moment. This callous indifference to the suffering of others, even of their own people, is a common feature not of Islam as a religion but of these terrorist movements and of the regimes that use them.

The motive, clearly, is hatred, and from then until now the question is being asked, with growing urgency and bewilderment: “Why do they hate us so?” Some go further and ask the very American question:
“What have we done to offend them?”

At one level the answer is obvious. It is difficult if not impossible to be strong and successful and to be loved by those who are neither the one nor the other. The same kind of envious rancor can sometimes be seen in Europe, where attitudes to the United States are often distorted by the feeling of having been overtaken, surpassed and in a sense superseded by the upstart society in the West. This feeling, with far deeper roots and greater intensity, affects attitudes in the Muslim world toward the Western world or, as they would put it, the infidel countries and societies that now dominate the world. Most Muslims, unlike most Americans, have an intense historical awareness and see current events in a much deeper and broader perspective than we normally do. And what they see is, for them, profoundly tragic. For many centuries Islam was the greatest civilization on Earth — the richest, the most powerful, the most creative in every significant field of human endeavor. Its armies, its teachers and its traders were advancing on every front in Asia, in Africa, in Europe, bringing, as they saw it, civilization and religion to the infidel barbarians who lived beyond the Muslim frontier.

And then everything changed, and Muslims, instead of invading and dominating Christendom, were invaded and dominated by Christian powers. The resulting frustration and anger at what seemed to them a reversal of both natural and divine law have been growing for centuries, and have reached a climax in our own time. These feelings find expression in many places where Muslims and non-Muslims meet and clash — in Bosnia and Kosovo, Chechnya, Israel and Palestine, Sudan, Kashmir, and the Philippines, among others. The prime target of the resulting anger is, inevitably, the United States, now the unchallenged, if not unquestioned, leader of what we like to call the free world and what others variously define as the West, Christendom and the world of the unbelievers.

For a long time politicians in Arab and some other Third World countries were able to achieve at least some of their purposes by playing the rival outside powers against one another — France against Britain, the Axis against the Allies, the Soviet Union against the United States. The actors changed, but the scenario remained much the same. And then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, came a truly radical change. Now, for the first time, there is only one superpower, dominant, however unwillingly, in the world: the United States.

Some Arab leaders try frantically to find a substitute for the Soviet Union as patron and protector of anti-American causes and have evoked a limited and for the most part ineffectual response in some quarters in Europe. Others, notably Osama bin Laden, took a different view. As they saw it — and their view does not lack plausibility — it was they who, by the holy war they waged in Afghanistan, brought about the defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union. In their perspective, they had dealt with one of the infidel superpowers — the more determined, the more ruthless, the more dangerous of the two. Dealing with the soft and pampered United States would, so it seemed, be a much easier task.

The reasons for hatred are known and historically attested; the hatred has been growing steadily for many years and has been intensified by the conduct of some of the rulers whom we call friends and allies and whom their own people see and resent as American puppets. A more important question, less frequently asked, is the reason for the contempt with which they regard us. The basic reason for this contempt is what they perceive as the rampant immorality and degeneracy of the American way — contemptible but also dangerous, because of its corrupting influence on Muslim societies. What did the Ayatollah Khomeini mean when he repeatedly called America the “Great Satan”? The answer is clear. Satan is not an invader, an imperialist, an exploiter. He is a tempter, a seducer, who, in the words of the Koran, “whispers in the hearts of men.” An example of this perception and the resulting attitude may be seen in a recent Arabic newspaper article in defense of polygamy. The writer argues as follows: In Christianity and more generally in the Western world, polygamy is outlawed. But this is contrary to human nature and needs. For 10 days a month during menstruation and for longer periods during pregnancy, a woman is not available. In the monogamous West, the deficiency is made up by promiscuity, prostitution and adultery; in Islam, by polygamy. Surely this, the writer argues, providing respectability for the woman and legitimacy for her children, is the better of the two. This makes good sense, if one accepts the writer’s view of the relations between men and women.

Another aspect of this contempt is expressed again and again in the statements of bin Laden and others like him. The refrain is always the same. Because of their depraved and self-indulgent way of life, Americans have become soft and cannot take casualties. And then they repeat the same litany — Vietnam, the Marines in Beirut, Somalia. Hit them and they will run. More recent attacks confirmed this judgment in their eyes — the attack on the World Trade Center in New York in February 1993, with six killed and more than a thousand injured; the attack on the American liaison mission in Riyadh in November 1995, with seven Americans killed; the attack on the military living quarters in Khobar in Saudi Arabia in June 1996, with 19 American soldiers killed and many more wounded; the embassies in East Africa in 1998; the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, with 17 sailors killed — all those brought only angry but empty words and, at most, a few misdirected missiles. The conclusion bin Laden and others drew was that the United States had become feeble and frightened and incapable of responding. The crimes of Sept. 11 were the result of this perception and were intended to be the opening salvo of a large-scale campaign to force Americans and their allies out of Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world, to overthrow the corrupt tyrants America supports, and to prepare the ground for the final world struggle.

The immediate and effective response against their bases in Afghanistan must have come as a serious shock to the terrorist organizations and compelled some revision of their earlier assessment of American weakness and demoralization. We must make sure that they are not misled, by the unfamiliar processes of a democratic society, to return to that earlier misjudgment.

The writer is professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University. His most recent book is “What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response.”

Posted by: Jim Woodhill on October 3, 2002 2:35 AM

But hatred and contempt aren’t enough to explain armed attacks against targets thousands of miles away. After all, I’m sure there are lots of other people UBL and whoever hate and hold in contempt much closer to home. So it seems that the extensive involvement of the United States in the Middle East is needed to turn generalized opposition into concrete bloody conflict.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 3, 2002 7:20 AM

On Mr. Auster’s basic question, how the bad effects of what looks like an approaching war might be limited, presumably what should be done is adopt the Codevilla approach of destroying whatever particular men and regimes present a concrete threat to our safety and leave rather than the Podhoretz/Woodhill approach of forcing cultural transformation on an entire civilization. The former approach seems very unlikely, of course. Perhaps one could emphasize the difficulties we’re having setting up a New Afghanistan as a precedent that shows what we should avoid?

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 3, 2002 7:30 AM

Disagreeing with Bernard Lewis’s thesis, Jim Kalb writes: “But hatred and contempt aren’t enough to explain armed attacks against targets thousands of miles away….So it seems that the extensive involvement of the United States in the Middle East is needed to turn generalized opposition into concrete bloody conflict.”

While Mr. Kalb’s remark seems to be pointed in the direction of making Israel the key factor, in fact it supports my own thesis stated above, that the Muslims want specifically to hurt America, not just because of our decadence (since Europe is equally decadent), but because we alone are actively promoting decadence through our Messianic project of converting the whole world to American-style radical individualism, including the radical sexual egalitarianism that trumpets the absolute horror (to any traditionalist, whether Muslim or Western) of female soldiers. My thesis alone adds the key element that Lewis’s lacks, a motive that raises the hate and contempt the Muslims feel for us, because of our decadence, to the level of actively wanting to destroy us, because they feel existentially THREATENED by our decadence.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 3, 2002 8:08 AM

The meaning of Mr. Kalb’s last comment is not clear to me, since the problems in Afghanistan that he offers as an example would seem to exemplify, not the problems of the Codevilla approach (“Take Out the Monster and Run”) but rather the problems of the Podhoretz approach (stay and govern the country after we topple its former regime).

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 3, 2002 8:26 AM

But the Europeans are more active politically in the project of messianic liberalism. Consider for example the reinterpretation of “human rights” as compulsory universal bureaucratized social radicalism. The Europeans are much more involved in that — examples would include opposing European and American attitudes toward the conventions on women’s and childrens rights, and the positions taken at various UN conferences.

It does seem that America is more identified with the general movement toward amoral radical individualism, and American pop culture does more to promote it than all the CEDAWs and Beijing Conferences in the world. Still, censorship seems a more obvious response to passive cultural imperialism than terrorism. So it seems to me that concrete American assertion of force in the Middle East, for example through alliance with Israel and the Gulf War, is fundamental in explaining what has happened.

As to my final comment, my intention was to say that one could support the Codevilla view by emphasis on Afghanistan as a negative precedent.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 3, 2002 9:31 AM

I think the Muslims don’t see the European agenda as affecting them. The EU project is like the innumerable UN declarations for the elimination of every type of discrimination. The Muslim countries sign these things, having not the slightest intention of carrying them out. It’s all a bureaucratic/political game. But the American project, ceaselessly and obnoxiously proclaimed, that American-style freedom is the greatest thing in the world and that everyone must be converted to it, combined with the continual temptation/revulsion involved in America’s cultural exports and its openness to mass immigration, is seen by the Muslims as a real threat to them.

Does Mr. Kalb believe that we if ceased all moral and political and financial support for Israel, thus abandoning it to a Second Holocaust, while also ending all financial aid to Arab regimes and removing all our forces from the Gulf, thus abandoning any ability to protect and control Mideast oil and also removing any ability to contain Hussein, that this would make the Mideast more peaceful and end the enmity that the Muslim world feels for us? Or would it not, rather, only make them feel that we were weak and on the run and encourage greater aggression on their part?

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 3, 2002 10:28 AM

Paul Johnson at National Review Online offers another cogent explanation why the Muslims want to destroy us. The U.S., he writes, is the indispensable guarantor of civilized order in today’s world, and thus the only thing that stands in the way of a world run by jihadists, thugs and terrorists. Cripple the U.S., says Johnson, and

“[t]he global consequences would be horrifying. The world would be plunged into the deepest depression in its history. There would be no power-of-last-resort to uphold international order. Wolf and jackal states would quickly emerge to prey on their neighbors. It would be a world as described by Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan (1651), in which, deprived of a giant authority figure ‘to keep them all in awe,’ civilization would break down, and life, for most of mankind, would be ‘nasty, brutish and short.’”

“Hence, we do well to look at the crisis not as solely or even primarily an American problem, but as a global one. We need a Leviathan figure now much more than in the 17th century, when the range of a cannon was a maximum of two miles and its throw-weight was measured in pounds. America is the only constitutional Leviathan we have, which is precisely why the terrorists are striving to do him mortal injury, and the opponents of order throughout the world—in the media, on the campus, and among the flat-earthers—are so noisily opposed to Leviathan’s protecting himself.”


I doubt any of us at VFR would like Johnson’s explanation of the Muslims’ motives, since it is a recipe for an out-and-out American global empire. However, the point is not whether we like Johnson’s explanation but whether it is true.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 3, 2002 10:51 AM

So now the “islamofascists” are really “islamo-anarchists” that seek not a caliphate, but world wide chaos. Very clever. I don’t buy it.

Johnson doesn’t address the question of whether or not America can maintain an empire or even build one from the start. The attempt to install a puppet regime in Afganistan is an abject failure. Hamid Karzai has only the weakest hold on power via the American-style Varangian Guard and is detested by most of the Afgani populace. This fact is lost on Johnson.

I pose the following questions. What would happen if Saddam is in the end toppled but still manages to inflict high casualties on the US? Will the American people still support this exercise in imperialism? What happens if they don’t and America is forced to cancel regime changes in the region and withdraw? Will this scenario be any less damaging than staying out of the region in the first place?

Posted by: Jason Eubanks on October 3, 2002 1:06 PM

>In Christianity and more generally in the >Western world, polygamy is outlawed. But this >is contrary to human nature and needs. For 10 >days a month during menstruation and for longer >periods during pregnancy, a woman is not >available. In the monogamous West, the >deficiency is made up by promiscuity, >prostitution and adultery; in Islam, by >polygamy. Surely this, the writer argues, >providing respectability for the woman and >legitimacy for her children, is the better of >the two. This makes good sense, if one accepts >the writer’s view of the relations between men >and women.

It’s a minor point, but I really must take issue with this line of reasoning. Polygyny negatively impacts the ratio of men to marriage eligible women. I assume the actual sex ratio is near 1/1. As a few men take more than one wife less women would be available for marriage for other men. So the typical man would have less ability to engage in sexual relationships inside marriage. Given Islam’s harsh treatment of adulters, there is little wonder that homosexuality is a common vice in the Mid East.

Posted by: Jason Eubanks on October 3, 2002 1:21 PM

I agree that pop culture is more influential than what happens at UN conferences and said so. Nonetheless, it seemed worth mentioning the latter in light of the statement that “we alone are actively promoting decadence through our Messianic project of converting the whole world to American-style radical individualism.” Unless something that’s “American-style” is by definition something only we can promote, the Europeans are in it too in a very important way.

I commented on Mr. Auster’s and Mr. Woodhill’s apparent view that 9/11 and the threat of similar additional horrors are due to what we are rather than what concretely we do. (Mr. Auster may consider boasting about the superiority of American ways and the availability of Ally McBeal etc. for syndication abroad, which he seems to view as factors leading to the attacks, to be something additional to “what we are.”) It seems to me in contrast that specific policies are essential to an explanation.

Proclaiming something thousands of miles away may be annoying but doesn’t normally lead to what is in substance—at least if we are to believe Mr. Codevilla—a military campaign. Something more immediate and practical is necessary. As to cultural exports, censorship etc. is a whole lot easier than warfare against a superpower, especially when you have a whole civilization behind you and other major civilizations that are at least somewhat sympathetic. It’s hard for me to see the possibility of immigration to America as that much of a problem for Islamicists. And even if we repented of our libertine universalism Islamicists would still view the West as Dar-ul-Harb since it’s not Muslim. So it’s hard for me to see particular American cultural characteristics or deficiencies as the basic problem. Maybe I’m repeating myself though.

Mr. Auster asks about the possible consequences of alternative policies, choosing for his point of reference “ceas[ing] all moral and political and financial support for Israel … while also ending all financial aid to Arab regimes and removing all our forces from the Gulf.” He believes that such a policy would “abandon[ Israel] to a Second Holocaust,” and “abandon[] any ability to protect and control Mideast oil and also removing any ability to contain Hussein.”

Since Israel (reputedly) has A-bombs as well as intangible advantages over the Arabs of the kind that Cortez had over the Aztecs, and since Israel is geographically quite close to the countries from which most of its Jewish inhabitants came, and since the US not the only country with interests in the region and armed forces vastly more effective than those of the Arabs, it’s not obvious to me that a cutoff of US aid would lead to a Second Holocaust. Nor is it clear to me what choices are available between the current alliance and detailed involvement on the one hand and utter unconditional abandonment on the other. As to Mideast oil, it seems to me it will keep flowing because that’s where they get their money. Cartels are notoriously hard to maintain, and Arab unity is if anything even harder to put together and maintain, so a major shift in things due to someone monopolizing Mideast oil seems unlikely. And as far as containing Saddam goes, presumably his neighbors want that too. So the issue is theirs in the first instance, and after that it falls in the lap of whoever they ally themselves with or request help from. It’s not obvious to me why we have to be the leaders.

All these latter points I should say are quite tentative. I mention them only because I was asked what I thought might happen if US policy were very radically different from what it is. It does seem to me best to choose the policy that is likely long-term to be the most successful even if it requires a change in course and therefore possible initial instability.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 3, 2002 2:18 PM

All good points, but it is not clear to me why the situation has to look particularly complicated from the perspective of Islam. The US is the clear leader in the modern liberal order, and that is sufficient reason to make it the overt enemy. Of course Islam will try to be friendly with the junior partner as a way of undermining the clear leader, as one survival tactic among many.

I think it is clearly true that the modern liberal order represents an existential threat to Islam, just as it does to Christianity. That threat can take the form of militaristic aggression or more passive poisoning but I am not sure the distinction crucial in the long term from the perspective of Islam. The example of what the modern liberal order has done by slow poisoning to Christianity is I am sure not lost on the Imams. Takeover from within is the overtly expressed strategy in Europe, more so than in the US. Why be surprised that Jihad entails different tactics against different enemy fronts?

Posted by: Matt on October 3, 2002 3:33 PM

I should clarify that “takeover from within is [Islam’s] overtly expressed strategy in Europe.” It isn’t as though they have been hiding the ball from us.

Posted by: Matt on October 3, 2002 3:37 PM

As the leading liberal power the US may be the prime national enemy of Islamicism simply by being what it is. Still, shooting wars are rarely started against distant and powerful enemies simply because of such abstract oppositions.

Islam is a big thing and not that easy to organize as an actor capable of defining and executing difficult strategies on the grandest scale. It’s much easier to talk big or abuse your neighbors or attack other enemies-by-nature who are weaker and closer at hand.

Naturally such reflections don’t prove what should be done, but they do suggest that if the question is how the present situation came about something more particular than the nature of American society as such is probably the answer.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 3, 2002 4:10 PM

As to Mr. Kalb’s latest comment, I don’t think the distinction between what a person or nation “is” and what that person or nation “does” is always helpful. If the U.S. does what it does because it is what it is then what analytical value does the distinction really add?

It seems that Mr. Kalb may be trying to say that something short of basic repentence on the part of the U.S. could be sufficient to take the U.S. off of Islam’s A-list of enemies. That might be the case but I don’t think the baby steps will be taken without fundamental repentence coming first, so on my view it is rather moot. Baby steps are all well and good but they are pointless without the initial (and more sweeping) setting of a new direction that I refer to as “repentance”. Not that I have any intention of writing a book entitled “The 12 Steps to Recovering a Traditionalist Christendom,” mind you.

Posted by: Matt on October 3, 2002 4:36 PM

I think Mr. Kalb somewhat trivializes my argument when he characterizes it as saying that “boasting about the superiority of American ways and the availability of Ally McBeal etc. for syndication abroad [were] factors leading to the attacks.” I was picking up on a point made by Mr. Woodhill which struck me with great force: that the Muslims are, and feel themselves to be, existentially threatened by modern liberal American-led Western civilization, from which it followed (or so it seemed to me) that this sense of existential threat could be the motive for their murderous hatred.

Does Mr. Kalb regard this as a plausible explanation, or at least as a major part of a plausible explanation?

Apparently not. He says “Proclaiming something thousands of miles away may be annoying but doesn’t normally lead to … a military campaign. Something more immediate and practical is necessary.” But what is that “something more immediate”? Does Mr. Kalb believe (here comes the list of “grievances” again) that 5,000 U.S. troops defending Saudi Arabia from an invasion by a dangerous dictator whom supposedly the whole Arab world dislikes; plus U.S. financial aid to Muslim governments including Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia; plus the existence of Israel and America’s friendship with Israel, to be enough to make half the Muslim world dance with joy at the thought of the crippling and destruction of America and the mass murder of its citizens? Since political “grievances” of this order do not normally lead a large part of a civilization of a billion people to want to see the literal destruction of an entire country of 300 million people , doesn’t that suggest that something weightier (whether real or fantastic) must be at work in the Arab psyche to motivate the hatred? Furthermore, if the Muslims are desirous of literally DESTROYING us over such “grievances” as protecting their countries from invasion and giving financial aid to their governments, what does that say about the possibility of our co-existing with the Muslims on this planet even after we yield to them on their present “grievances,” and, inevitably, they inevitably find new “grievances?”

My last comment, by the way, would tend to support Mr. Woodhill’s argument, that the only safety for us is in the total reconstruction of the Muslim culture, because, at bottom, there is no “grievance” of theirs that we can satisfy and thus end their hatred. Their hatred, it would seem comes from something more elemental that may not be assuageable by compromise. As a conservative, surely Mr. Kalb is aware that sometimes there is simply an evil impulse or a mass delusion or an expansionist will to power that cannot be negotiated away, but that must simply be opposed?

On other the other hand, this doesn’t mean that there is nothing we can do to lessen the factors leading to conflict. Here is what I said earlier:

“In other words, the Muslims’ motive for wanting to destroy America is much BROADER than their anger at our support for Israel, and much NARROWER than a presumed hatred of the very existence of America or American culture. Their motive, rather, is a fear and hatred of the ultra-liberal, ultra-expansionist ideology and culture that America now presents to the world. And that is something we CAN change, to the benefit of ourselves and of the whole world, without abandoning Israel to destruction.”

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 3, 2002 4:44 PM

In another thread Mr. Kalb seemed to think it reasonable to say that incompatible immanent universalisms will be at war just by virtue of being incompatible immanent universalisms. Given that I am a bit puzzled as to where the substantive disagreement lies in this thread. Maybe Mr. Kalb thinks that the modern liberal order that America leads is not an immanent universalism, or that America just has to tweak a policy or two in order to stop being a participant in an immanent universalism. That seems a bit of an understatement of the reality to me, and even if it were the case it would not cure Islam’s status as an immanent universalism so in the long run the conflict can’t be avoided.

Posted by: Matt on October 3, 2002 5:05 PM

That’s an excellent point by Matt. And, if I remember correctly, Mr. Kalb in the past has been in agreement with the idea that Islam can be understood as a type of a genocidal totalitarian tribalism—a tribe that, because it embodies the whole and absolute truth, cannot allow any other tribes, ultimately, to exist. How does that view of Islam square with his present suggestion that Muslims’ homicidal hatred for America can only be explained by some immediate and particular “grievance,” such as America’s friendship with Israel?

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 3, 2002 6:03 PM

In response to Matt: I think incompatible immanent universalisms will be at war but more because of what they do than because of mere essence unmanifested in aggressive action. I suppose I’d also say that America is not purely liberal, if only because nothing can be purely liberal. So if some people say “repent” and others say “change these particular policies” they may all contribute something.

Also, not every struggle between theoretically incompatible and imperialistic principles becomes in fact a war of mutual extermination. So it makes sense to ask what specific policies led to this particular bloody episode and what policies are likely to reduce the chance that a cold war will become a hot war. Maybe in the end the best answer is to nuke ‘em or annex Iraq as the 51st state or whatever, but to say the war is essentially an attack on what we are seems to cut short the analysis too much. It’s at least conceivable that major trouble can be avoided to some extent until the other side decides to go off in some other direction or falls apart from its own internal problems.

Whether all that means that there’s a substantive disagreement I have no idea. I started by commenting rather narrowly on particular statements and arguments and then had to respond to questions so maybe things have been blown up out of proportion. So my future replies in this thread are likely to be much shorter.

In response to Mr. Auster: from the standpoint of radical Islam America is certainly the Great Satan and being what we are is central to that status. On the other hand support for Israel, which must seem somewhat like a replay of the crusades only with TV coverage and greater displacement of Arab and Muslim populations, support for hated Muslim regimes, a brutally effective war against an Arab Muslim state, and a continuing military presence in a symbolically important location must make that spectre play a far greater role in the symbolic and emotional life of the Arabs than it would otherwise. Those things also give practical political actors reason to want to make our involvement in the Middle East seem to us more trouble than it’s worth. Even if other Arabs hate Saddam they might hate us more for getting involved. And if you give aid to Arab X no doubt you’ve turned Arabs Y and Z into your sworn enemies, especially if you have the reputation of immense power and so are a plausible candidate for blame whenever something goes wrong.

I suppose it’s true I don’t like the theory that we must radically transform Muslim culture—i.e., abolish Islam by force. Islam isn’t like communism or nazism. It’s been around for almost 1400 years and has a billion or so adherents who have built their lives and the life of their societies on it. It’s been the basis of a great civilization. It’s hard just to get rid of such things and if the Pakis in England are a clue what replaces it is not necessarily so wonderful either. So the obvious fundamental strategy is to hold it at a distance, to define boundaries and fundamental interests, and to respond forcefully when those things are violated.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 3, 2002 6:06 PM

Mr. Kalb was pushed to the ropes, and came back admirably. But now let’s get down to specifics. Let us assume for the sake of discussion that America’s support for Israel’s existence is at the least a major contributing factor in the Muslims’ hatred of America. What, specifically, does Mr. Kalb propose doing about that? Let me remind him that it is not enough to say that we should be “more neutral” between the parties. As every sentient person knows from the catastrophe of the “peace process,” since Israel wants to exist, and since the Palestinians don’t want Israel to exist, to claim that one embraces a “neutral” ground between the two parties is delusional at best. So, the first question is, what specifically does Mr. Kalb recommend that the U.S. do about Israel? And the second question is, if his recommendations were enacted, what improvement would he then expect to see in Muslim-U.S. relations? I presume he would expect it to be very substantial.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 3, 2002 6:24 PM

I agree that beings of whatever sort that just sit there and don’t do anything aren’t likely to engender any more animosity than the rocks they resemble. I suppose it is even true in a sense that rocks are immanent universals. Rock on. But any politically active immanent universal like modern liberalism or Islam is never going to just sit there like a rock, so the “what we are/what we do” question casts as much shadow as light.

I also agree that America as a particular people and way of life is not only and essentially liberalism (as Mr. Kalb points out this is impossible because of the nature of liberalism itself). I further agree that our specific battles right now would be different with only minor modifications to the past, although the fundamental conflict with Islam remains; I just don’t find the observation terrifically helpful. I agree with Mr. Auster that the important brass tacks question is what do we do specifically right now? Sure, Islam is unhappy because 50 years ago we (perhaps unwisely) accomplished what centuries of crusaders couldn’t accomplish by rolling back a few acres of Islamic conquest. Sure, Lincoln was ruthless and brutal and southerners thought (rightly or wrongly) that they had a right to secede. Sure, Alexander Hamilton’s _Report on Manufactures_ could have been written by FDR as a manifesto for the New Deal, and the Boston Tea Party was an initiation of violence by destroying property in protest of a 2% tax. But so what? We bought the puppy and took it home, wisely or not, so what do we do now?

Posted by: Matt on October 3, 2002 7:40 PM

I suppose I should acknowledge that I have been talking past Mr. Kalb a bit. He said specifically:

“Naturally such reflections don’t prove what should be done, but they do suggest that if the question is how the present situation came about something more particular than the nature of American society as such is probably the answer.”

If I had been clearer headed about it I would probably have just said that I don’t think that is the important question. The important question is not why Islam sees America as the leader of the enemy that most threatens to destroy it, as historical analysis. The question is what morally right changes (if such are possible) would be required in order to make Islam stop seeing America as the leader of an enemy that threatens its survival (in addition to presumably in actual fact ceasing such enmity). I think that is a much more difficult question to answer.

Posted by: Matt on October 3, 2002 7:59 PM

The Muslims are, to be sure, opposed to Israel due to its occupation of formerly Islamic-held territory and its denial of statehood to the Palestinians. But are they not also opposed to Israel because of its degenerate Western culture? To name just one example, I recall reading a story fairly recently about the Israeli army jamming Palestinian television broadcasts, replacing them with hard-core porn broadcasting, which naturally angered many Palestinians. (It would seem the Israelis are adopting the Woodhill strategy.) Then, isn’t perhaps the Muslims’ anger with America due not necessarily to America’s moral degeneracy per se, but more to its support of another equally degenerate Western nation, one directly in their midst, beaming out its television and radio signals, and thus promoting its degenerate ways to all within signal range? (In addition to the other aforementioned grievances.) Just a thought…

Posted by: Will S. on October 4, 2002 3:13 AM

The topic was first historical causation, then specific consequences of a specific radical change in policy, and finally a sketch of an overall fundamental approach, the main principles of which are disentanglement and clarity. Now Matt and Mr. Auster both want particular policy proposals.

As to Israel, it seems to me the obvious move is to decide whether to treat Israel as outside or inside the West. In the first case they could sink or swim. As suggested, the results might or might not be catastropic for Israel but if the latter the arrival of a new wave of boat people in Europe would be more likely than a second Holocaust. In the second case the borders of Israel would be the borders of the West, so to attain clarity and disengagement the Palestinians would presumably have to be expelled from whatever area is needed to give the Jewish state clear defensible borders. If either were done the obvious initial consequence would be to upset things. The point of the overall approach though is to provide clear, liveable and enforceable bottom-line answers so there would be grounds to hope the upsets would be limited and temporary and we would ultimately attain a tolerable degree of stability.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 4, 2002 7:45 AM

In response to Will S I would suggest that opposition to Israel is more then just a territory beef. After all Judaism has a long history of living alongside of Islam since its inception. A friend of mine wrote this to explain the historical issue.

“When the Army’s of Queen Isabelle routed Islam from Europe at the end of the 15th century it was the Islamic equivalent of the sacking of Rome in the 6th century. Just as Rome had endured centuries of Attacks from the Barbarian hordes, so to had Islam endured centuries of attacks from the descendants of those same barbarians beginning with the First Crusade in 1095ce. But Isabelle was Islam’s down fall. When Islam, and with it Judaism, was routed from Spain, Europe was just entering the Renaissance.

The Renaissance was the culmination of a new philosophical understanding of the nature of man and his place in the cosmos. An understanding that directly results from the radical approach Christianity takes to the individual’s relationship to the Divine. A relationship in which man, and hence the individual, is second only to God. This then appropriates for man a share in divinity, all be it trifling relative to God. However, the greatest perceivable act of divinity is creation. Therefore, man and the individual is capable of creativity. If both man and creation are divine then man is an agent of creation. If this is true then man must create in order to fulfill his spiritual destiny and be pleasing to God. By the time of the Renaissance the idea of man as a creative agent had gone from a religious approach to a secular philosophy and is now so culturally pervasive we no longer consider it. It simply is.

It took Europe 1000 years to develop this new philosophical understanding. Enabling it to climb out of the chaos and develop the institutions necessary to reestablish European dominance. Unfortunately for Islam, Europe ran head first in to the Middle East and North Africa as soon as it reestablished dominance. This left Islam unprepared to accept the culture it was now confronting. Islam had neither the philosophical foundation necessary to adjust to the New Western culture or the time needed to make such an adjustment. Islam is now a culture suffering from philosophical confusion and cultural stagnation as a result of the forced introduction of ideas they did not yet have the history to prepare them for. It took Europe the full 500 years of the Dark Ages to mull over the idea of individual importance and the next 500 years of the Middle Ages to disseminate these new ideas to the masses. It also took the full 500 years of the Middle Ages to turn Plato and Aristotle in to the objective understanding that would become Renaissance rationalism. Islam is a conservative agrarian society stuck in a modern techno world and has no idea how to adjust. It is effectively Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock on a cultural scale. As a result there is a general sense within much of Islam, to this very day, of being over powered and violated by the West. Islam sees itself as the victim of a brutal rape on a cultural scale.”

Israel now represents a modern western state in there own backyard and of course the Islamic the fundamentalist’s see the US support as the reason they continue to exist. The modern state of Israel challenges the fabric of the fundamentalist’s way of life. If it was just about land it would be difficult to understand why borders could not be drawn up and the matter quickly settled. What is troublesome is how the fundamentalists are influencing secular and moderate Moslems; anti-American sympathies run deep among the educated classes as well. Presumably, the cultural clash merely provides a foundation for a host of objections political and economic.

The fact remains that we are engaged in the politics and culture of the Middle East due to our need for resources. How important would a modern western pro-democratic state like Israel be strategically if it were not situated on the Arab Peninsula?

Posted by: Rick DeMent on October 4, 2002 10:26 AM

From Mr. Kalb’s answer on Israel I gather his position is as follows. He sees the existence of Israel as a cause of the Muslims’ murderous hate of America. His policy prescription is either to abandon Israel entirely, or to build up fortress Israel as a Western outpost and expel the Palestinians. Implied in the latter option is the idea that we accept that the Muslims hate us because of our support of Israel, and, instead of running away from that hate, we confront it and are willing to pay the full price of confronting it. Mr. Kalb professes no preference between the two options, but, either way, he seeks a clarity that is currently lacking. Either America and the West give full support to Israel’s existence, or they abandon her.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 4, 2002 11:01 AM

Again I am not sure the specific explanation “Israel is the problem” is helpful. It implies that America and Islam wouldn’t be in radical conflict anyway, which is to further imply that if we got rid of Israel the problem would go away. I think that is wrong, as much because of basic things about America as about Islam. America and the universalist liberalism it leads does in fact threaten Islam’s existence; Islam is now (for whatever historical reasons) quite aware of that fact; ergo conflict for survival will continue even if Israel were thrown to the wolves.

Some seem to have the impression that, given our current circumstance, there are two clear options: 1) let Israel defend herself, vs 2) use America as Israel’s bodyguard. I think that analysis sacrifices truth for the sake of faux moral clarity, much as the neoconfederate analysis “Lincoln was evil/the South was pristinely innocent” sacrifices truth for the sake of faux moral clarity.

Posted by: Matt on October 4, 2002 12:42 PM

It’s a practical suggestion for dealing with a radical conflict by drawing and enforcing boundaries and then waiting until the conflict diminishes or goes away because of the transformation of one or both of the opponents. Each side can imagine it will be the one to persevere and so end up with all the chips. The clarity is all in the practicalities. The moral implication — the forced or voluntary abandonment by each party of practical universal imperialism — is hidden.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 4, 2002 1:02 PM

To Matt: In my exchange with Mr. Kalb I allowed myself to be “provisionally” persuaded by his point that even if there is the larger, continuing civilizational conflict between Islam and the West, that larger conflict does not explain the particular motive of the Muslims in the present moment to mass murder Americans; that motive must be due to something more specific and immediate. Accepting his point that Israel was one of those motives, I asked what he thought should be done about that.

However, I agree with Matt that, even if we did betray Israel, and even if (as some people imagine) that did lessen the immediate, mass murderous hostility that Arabs feel toward America, the larger civilizational conflict would go on.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 4, 2002 1:42 PM

An additional question is what effects the tactical move of performing a social abortion on our now-unwanted child Israel would have on both the inevitable long term conflict with Islam and on ourselves. If the long-term crucial thing is the disease within ourselves then having a social abortion in order to keep from disrupting our lifestyle may not be the answer.

Posted by: Matt on October 4, 2002 2:05 PM

In this discussion I’ve been trying to look objectively at all options, ranging from the McBealization of the Muslims to the abandonment of Israel. But personally I entirely agree with Matt’s suggestion that betraying Israel, far from improving our prospects, would be a self-destructive act of the first order. As I wrote in my article “An Open Letter to Patrick Buchanan”:

“And you, Pat, you who cherish Western and Christian and American values—how are you relating to this Jihad against the Jews, which is also a Jihad against Christendom and the West? Are you thinking that if the West sells Israel down the river to appease these Muslim fanatics, or in some other way forces the extinction of the Jewish state, the result will be to strengthen the will and the moral fiber of the Western peoples about whose spiritual health you claim to be concerned? Surely the truth of the matter is the exact opposite. If the West abandons Israel to a Second Holocaust at the hands of Islamic extremists, that will be an act of collective moral suicide—the true Death of the West.”


Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 4, 2002 2:22 PM

I am also not sure that Mr. Kalb’s suggestion that we ignore all such externalities for the sake of simplicity (whether moral or practical) has legs. Isn’t that sort of thinking one of the things that got us here in the first place?

Posted by: Matt on October 4, 2002 2:46 PM

I don’t understand Matt’s most recent comment. Where do I suggest ignoring an externality?

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 4, 2002 3:10 PM

Mr. Kalb’s apparent suggestion that we ignore the effects (other than the new, crisp boundaries) of abandoning Israel on ourselves and on our Islamic enemies is implicit, so of course he can clarify that at any time. So far I have no basis from which to conclude that he acknowledges their existence, which as always could indicate a problem with my critical reading skills but subjectively the gap remains. To make it more concrete we could do scenarios:

* America says that Israel is on its own and pulls completely out of the middle east militarily and diplomatically. Some Islamists view this as capitulation like Somalia but on a much larger scale. The expect us to change course again at some time in the future because we are untrustworthy so they need to press the advantage NOW. The logistical and diplomatic disruption we initiated radically interferes with our ability to track terrorist activities. A decade of WMD attack and counterattack ensues.

I won’t bother with others. The point is that the situation is dicey and complex, and any attempt to clarify it through a radical change of course is going to make it more dicey and complex rather than less so. If our concern is with the current particular conflicts rather than civilizational conflict this is the opposite of what is needed. If our concern is with the long term civilizational conflict then it is counterproductive. If our concern is with the effects that our decisions have on ourselves then once again it doesn’t help and probably hurts.

Mr. Kalb seems to be trying to match short term issues (e.g. “they hate us because of Israel” rather than fundamental civilizational conflict) to long term solutions (he acknowledges that a period of difficult-to-predict disruption would follow the major course-changes he suggests). That is I think a recipe for disaster. If we want to deal with short term tactical issues then the last thing we want to do is make radical immediate changes. If we are not dealing with short term tactical issues then I don’t know why we are even talking about Israel.

Posted by: Matt on October 4, 2002 3:38 PM

Since I have no idea how I suggested ignoring effects of abandoning Israel it’s hard for me to know what to clarify.

I agree the situation is dicey and complex. What makes it impossibly so is the impossibility of establishing a regime of voluntary complex fluid cooperation between peoples whose common life is based on principles that are in radical fundamental conflict. The “peace process,” as an attempt to do so, has failed and will continue to fail. If the “peace process” and the commitments, assumptions and practices connected to it are radically flawed then it seems to me that radical change of some sort is necessary. After all, it is those things that, as to Western policy, constitute the status quo. As you point out, radical change is also dicey and complex. Still, it seems to me necessary if we are to have any hope of moving toward principles that offer greater stability long term.

I have no idea how I am trying to match short term issues to long term solutions. It seems to me that the best hope long term is to establish and enforce clearer boundaries between Dar-ul-Islam and Christendom or the West, especially in those places where they are in bloody conflict. If that is done then the short term issues that will inevitably repeatedly come up can likely be handled in ways that lead to less bloodshed. If we are to establish boundaries then Israel is an obvious issue because it is disputed territory. On which side of the boundary does it fall? Either way there are costs, and either decision means disrupting a great many things. All that is implicit in what I wrote is that those costs should be faced and a decision one way or the other made.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 4, 2002 4:15 PM

Matt -

With respect, your position seems untenable, especially if youR main concern is the avoidance of “disaster.” The present situation appears rather disastrous and this is not an overstatement.

Your “capitulation comparison” juxtaposing Somolia and the Middle East seems misplaced as it ignores, amongst other things, the geopolitical difference between these areas. We had less reason being in Somalia. The two areas may share some similarity as object lessons of the law of unintended consequence or head in the sand optimism.

Mr. Kalb provides a well-reasoned perspective framed in the possible (though unpopular). But, what it requires in order to become operational, is a loosening of ties and the questioning of particular interests.

Though the civilizational conflict rhetoric you espouse may well have reason in fact, it seems rather contrived on your part to simply keep U.S. foreign policy enmeshed in this puerile game between two groups with little interest in solving the problem. We would do ourselves one better to discontinue our present course of action: to re-evaluate the rather obsequious manner in which we deal with the Sharon government as well as the need to stop so-called foreign aid monies to dictatorial Arab regimes. Such a program has yet to be pursued and yet may -contrary to popular wisdom — do more to defuse the current situation…

Posted by: Michael on October 4, 2002 4:17 PM

Michael mistakes the one possible scenario that I posted for something specific I think likely rather than as an illustration of one possibility among a literally infinite number. The point to the scenario is basically that the law of unintended consequences looms large in our current circumstance, and a quest for false clarity for its own sake won’t make that not so.

My main concern was with what I see as an apparent rational incoherence in Mr. Kalb’s problem-solution construction.

On the one hand it has been conceded that Israel is a short-term tactical issue related to how we got to this specific conflict rather than the fundamental reason for Western conflict with Islam in general. Lack of clarity on the distinction was the source of the original disagreement between Mr. Kalb and Mr. Auster, as near as I can tell.

On the other hand it is apparently expected that changing policy radically w.r.t. Israel will not be stabilizing but rather the opposite in the short term with the current conflict. All parties concede that as well (excluding Michael as a new entrant to the discussion). So if Israel is a short-term immediate concern and changing policy radically w.r.t. Israel will merely make our situation more volatile then why advocate it as a reasonable alternative?

Posted by: Matt on October 4, 2002 5:14 PM

Michael urges that we should “re-evaluate the rather obsequious manner in which we deal with the Sharon government.”

This is another of these cost-free, “I’m above the fray” generalities that we hear steadily from the critics of Israel. How easy it is for the critics of Israel to say, “We must stop all this obsequious kow-towing to Israel.” But how hard it would be for them to say WHAT EXACTLY THEY THINK THE U.S. POLICY TOWARD ISRAEL SHOULD BE. When asked, they usually go silent or else retreat into more vague generalities.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 4, 2002 5:21 PM

WHAT EXACTLY THEY THINK THE U.S. POLICY TOWARD ISRAEL SHOULD BE: I suggest — Bush I or Clinton would be better than what’s happening now!

Posted by: Michael on October 4, 2002 5:34 PM

I think “particular” would be better than “short term.” Israel is a particular problem but it is not short term.

The thought is that the particular question of Israel will continue to have serious bad consequences for how the intrinsically adversarial relationship of the West with Dar-ul-Islam plays out in practice as long as it receives no decisive resolution but is subjected to endless attempted finagling and well-meaning proposed compromises. Peace processes and general dithering always seem attractive because decisive action has very serious risks. My point has been that the latter is nonetheless better because otherwise the unsettled status of Israel will continue to create a perpetual crisis leading to more dangers than a decisive resolution would create.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on October 4, 2002 5:42 PM

I agree with Mr. Kalb that clear definitions and decisive action would be better. Further, I believe that the reason the world has gotten into this current mess with the Arabs and Israel has been the lack, or rather the abandonment, of such clear definitions. The world through the U.N. supported the creation of the Jewish state, but in more recent decades most of the world has shamefully betrayed that trust by legitimizing Arab claims and complaints that must lead to the destruction of Israel. Had the world kept to its position of supporting the existence of Israel, had the world not legitimized the Arab rejectionism of Israel and thus legitimized Arab extremism and terrorism, we would not be in the position we are in. If Europe and other powers had said to the Arab countries, “Israel exists. Get used to it,” if they had told the Arabs that no support of terrorism would be countenanced in any way, then the Arabs would have accepted Israel, all kinds of issues of territory and status could have been resolved, and this whole anti-Israel hostility across the Muslim world and Europe would not have occurred or been much reduced. It was Western moral relativism and pro-alienism and fear of offending oil-rich Arabs that made the current situation possible, greatly exacerbated, of course, by Israel’s abysmal folly in pursuing the “peace process” and treating their unreconstructed mortal enemies as “peace partners”. In all these things there was the attempt to avoid clear definitions and distinctions.

So, yes, clear definitions, as between the West and Islam, between legitimate political activity and illegitimate political activity, between people with whom one can deal and people with whom one cannot deal, are what is needed.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 4, 2002 6:19 PM

If the important part of the discussion boils down to the observation that wishy-washiness is not helping things then I agree without reservation.

Posted by: Matt on October 4, 2002 10:28 PM

Appropriate to the current discussion:


I agree with Mr. Kalb that Israel is certainly a part of the particular picture. I agree with Mr. Auster that Western moral relativism, pro alienism, etc have as particular features made the particular issues with Israel far worse.

It is all of a piece, though. If the intent is to defuse the present situation then trumpeting a newfound intent to let Israel hang isn’t likely to help. If the intent is to attempt to resolve the clash of civilizations then Israel is a relatively trivial part of the situation. Israel may have been one significant catalyst that raised Islam’s awareness of the true danger, but killing Typhoid Mary’s family isn’t going to stop the epidemic. The Imam’s are not so backward that this is lost on them.

Posted by: Matt on October 5, 2002 12:31 PM
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