Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chinese happiness -- Hating the One-Liner

One of the biggest reasons I am enjoying this blog is that I am freed, at least thus far, from the insulting “one liner.” In other discussion groups, I couldn’t avoid them. I typically approach a subject by doing some study, seeking the best authorities I can find and then reasoning from them to a conclusion -- perhaps only a tentative or conditional one. Some, perhaps many, are impatient with that approach and in the midst of something I am writing, they will interject the “one-liner.”

The “one-liner” will be insulting, challenging, or perhaps merely disdaining, and since they develop no argument of their own I won’t be able to tell what their precise motivation is – or often even what they mean. Furthermore, they won’t have challenged my whole argument, just some brief statement they want to quibble about. If I respond, then it becomes readily apparent that they do indeed intend to challenge everything I’ve said. Of course they don’t know enough to do that, and I don’t know why they even want to try. They tenaciously hone in on their “one-liner” and defend it like a pit bull with his teeth wrapped around another dog’s throat.

I hate that. Such people won’t know enough to address the issues I am interested in, and it is demeaning to have to descend into a response to their quibble. Of course I can’t always avoid it, and it invariably leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

So instead of talking about the recent grudging Western acceptance of the fact that the “Autocracies” aren’t going away any time in the foreseeable future, I must descend into a quibble challenging the idea that people who live in China can really be happy. Good grief, that was the hope for many years, that is, that they would be so unhappy that they would have a Western-Style Liberal-Democratic revolution, but they turned out to be happy enough, especially with standards of living that are growing rapidly. Everyone . . . I need a better word, because the quibbler will reject that right off . . . is watching China. The Chinese have a tradition of respecting elders. Their traditions are a good fit for an authoritarian regime as long as it isn’t too brutal. Even if it is, as it was under Mao, most Chinese went along because they always go along. Yeah there was Tiananmen Square, but how many people did that really represent, one percent of the Chinese population? (Ah, I would definitely be opening myself up for a quibble here because I don’t really know how many Chinese supported the Tiananmen Square position). And if the people were happy enough to tolerate Tiananmen Square . . .

Consider the Chinese novelist Yang Yi who won Japan’s most prestigious literary prize with a novel about Tiananmen Square:

In a very few words the author of the article, drawing from Yang Yi’s acceptance speech answers the question about Chinese happiness. She quotes Yang Yi to say ‘The staggering number of people in China, along with its millennia-old history, makes us incapable of having a Western-style democracy.”

The Macao based author writes, “A recent poll by the Washington-based Pew Research Center found that Chinese were the most positive about the nation’s direction among 24 countries polled, with 86 percent of Chinese saying they were satisfied.”

Good Grief! 86%? I doubt that 86% of Americans would say they were satisfied. And yet many of us doubt that the Chinese can be happy because they aren’t living in Western-style Liberal Democracies? What arrogance!

Now don’t get me wrong. I probably lean toward the Neocon idea (if any Neocons still hold it) that it would be a good thing to export Liberal Democracy – a good thing for those of us living in the West – because then everyone would be enough like us so we wouldn’t need to worry about wars , or at least very serious wars. But to balk and quibble about whether Chinese can be happy living in modern day China is . . . well you can see why I don’t like talking to people who engage in one-liners.

Lawrence Helm

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Choler, my lord, if taken rightly

Choler, my lord, if taken rightly

(Lawrence Helm)

These hieratic musings

Unbosom healing

Power, word-link:

I sit engendering

The forms given me --

To suggest I make

Them up is unthinkable.

Disjointed as a stork

Raising his head

From a pond,

I bring out

One offering

After another.

It is what I do

Best. The others

Rest on the bank

Eating their fill,

Laughing at their

Private jokes

Which I can't hear --

My head beneath the water.

Warriors, Priests

Warriors, Priests

(Lawrence Helm)

The clash of our words

Rose until in the general

Melee even the sorrowful

And sick keened their grievance

Above the snarls and sneers:

Their hope of spoil

Their fear of detestation.

I stepped back with

Weary arm, my words

Ran down my sleeve

Onto the ground

Where they sounded

A guttural protest

At the wind.

Others too withdrew

Like tormented

Conies scurrying off

To seek a hiding place

Beneath the piles of trash.

We stood with

Heaving chests. Our eyes

Looked about with deep

Suspicion. Those most

Given to the pacific cause

Were as like as not

To rage against

Our mild and ironic

Warwords. We stood aside

And pulled our cloaks

About our bulging shoulders

And arms, content that

Should our words fail

In resolution our swords

Were sharp enough to etch

Our sayings on city walls.

Chatting with a fellow patient

Chatting with a fellow patient

(Lawrence Helm)

“Well that’s that!” he said

Standing up and dusting himself off.

He obviously thought the Islamists done.

I thought so too and turned

When he did and had he not taken

The brunt of the blast

Would have been much worse –

Perhaps as he was, dead.

They all said it couldn’t be helped –

Those fellows had nothing better to do.

They were, they said, quite poor

Except for the bombs and guns.

They could afford those

Or perhaps not. Some said

They were gifts from the Saudis

Which might be a Bedouin thing.

What does one need on one’s

Camel if not a bomb and a gun?

I managed to walk to the end

Of the hall without falling. Quite good,

They told me. Everything looks that way.

The New American Realism

The above is an article from the July/August 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs. It is by Condoleezza Rice and entitled, “Rethinking the National Interest.”

Why would Rice write this very long article assessing all our Foreign Affairs challenges a few months before the administration she is a part of leaves office? Perhaps it is a summing up, showing what has been accomplished and what still needs to be accomplished from her point of view. Perhaps it is a handing off of the baton to the next Secretary of State.

She touches on one of my recent interests, the Autocracies: “The untidiness of democracy has led some to wonder if weak states might not be better off passing through a period of authoritarian capitalism. A few countries have indeed succeeded with this model, and its allure is only heightened when democracy is too slow in delivering or incapable of meeting high expectations for a better life. Yet for every state that embraces authoritarianism and manages to create wealth, there are many, many more that simply make poverty, inequality, and corruption worse. For those that are doing pretty well economically, it is worth asking whether they might be doing even better with a freer system. Ultimately, it is at least an open question whether authoritarian capitalism is itself an indefinitely sustainable model. Is it really possible in the long run for governments to respect their citizen’s talents but not their rights? I, for one, doubt it.”

She refers to the other Iran, the one that likes Americans, the one we in the past hoped would throw out the Iranian Islamists. She just refers to them and then says “Should the Iranian government honor the UN Security Council’s demands and suspend its uranium enrichment and related activities, the community of nations, including the United states, is prepared to discuss the full range of issues before us. The United States has no permanent enemies.” I have no reason to believe Iran will be any more interested in this offer than in any of the others.

She has some interesting things to say about Iraq: “But the fundamental question that we can ask and debate now is, Was removing Saddam from power the right decision? I continue to believe that it was.

“After we fought one war against Saddam and then remained in a formal state of hostilities with him for over a decade, our containment policy began to erode. The community of nations was losing its will to enforce containment, and Iraq’s ruler was getting increasingly good at exploiting it through programs such as oil-for-food – indeed, more than we knew at the time. The failure of containment was increasingly evident in the UN Security Council resolutions that were passed and then violated, in our regular clashes in the no-fly zones, and in President Bill Clinton’s decision to launch air strikes in 1998 and then join with Congress to make ‘regime change’ our government’s official policy in Iraq. If Saddam was not a threat, why did the community of nations keep the Iraqi people under the most brutal sanctions in modern history?”

She also discusses the matter of why we became interested in democratizing Iraq: “We discussed the question of whether we should be satisfied with the end of Saddam’s rule and the rise of another strongman to replace him. The answer was no, and it was thus avowedly U.S. policy from the outset to try to support the Iraqis in building a democratic Iraq. It is important to remember that we did not overthrow Adolf Hitler to bring democracy to Germany either.”

Also of interest: “Since 2001, the president has requested and Congress has approved a nearly 54 percent increase in funding for our institutions of diplomacy and development. And this year, the president and I asked Congress to create 1,100 new positions for the state Department and 300 new positions for the U.S. Agency for International Development.”

And, “. . . President Bush has proposed to Congress an expansion of our force by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines.” I would have turned those numbers around, 65,000 Marines and 27,000 soldiers, but that’s just me.

COMMENT: Could Condoleeza Rice be appointed Secretary of State under McCain if he is elected? This article is a tour de force, one can read it and see who she is and what she believes in regard to foreign affairs. However, it is also the voice of the Bush Administration on Foreign Affairs, and McCain and Palin will be running on a platform of change; so though there is nothing wrong with Rice, certainly nothing wrong with her abilities, she is the Bush Administration; so I don’t think Rice “could” be appointed – unless whoever McCain did appoint didn’t work out – but that had better not happen.

Also, I suspect Rice would turn down the job if it were offered to her. The past eight years was tough enough reading about, let alone being somewhat responsible for. She is probably looking forward to several years of quiet teaching with perhaps a few forays into punditry.

Lawrence Helm

Russia's Transition to Autocracy

The above is an article from the April 2008 issue of Journal of Democracy, entitled “Russia’s Transition to Autocracy.” It was written by Pierre Hassner.

This transition is interesting. The USSR collapsed and many of us thought Russia well on its way to a Liberal Democracy. Hadn’t Francis Fukuyama convinced us that the whole world was heading in that direction? What else was there? Fascism was dead, Communism was dead; so all that was left was Liberal Democracy.

Hassner comments about the analysts analyzing Russia’s transition:

“Today, analysts of Russia are threatened by three temptations: economic determinism, cultural determinism, and political determinism. For instance, the excellent Russian author Dmitri Trenin is optimistic about Russia’s future because, although not democratic, it is capitalist; hence he argues that it will give birth to a middle class that will want the rule of law. Other authors believe that Russia will never become democratic because its culture is basically authoritarian. The third group, composed largely of Americans, believes in politics as a deus ex machine: Because all people want democracy and the market, no matter what their culture or their state of economic development is, these can be installed virtually overnight.”

The third group is definitely the one I’m most familiar with. Doesn’t everyone want to be just like us? . . . well maybe not just like us, but at least like the Europeans who are sort of like us? Look at the Soviet dissident, Natan Sharansky. Look at the Eastern Europeans. They want to be like us. Surely all those Russians do as well.. But do they?

Hassner quotes from the “Russian Public Opinion 2006”: “In answer to the question ‘Would you like the Soviet Union and the social system to be reestablished,’ 12 percent answer, ‘Yes, and I think it quite realistic’; 48 percent say, ‘Yes, but I think now it is unrealistic’; and only 31 percent say. ‘No, I would not.’”

Another poll which shows that an “increasing proportion of Russians (26 percent) believe that Russia should follow its own path in terms of government, a plurality (42 percent) are still in favor of liberal democracy.”

That 60% miss the old Soviet Union ought to be good evidence that whatever they mean by Liberal Democracy isn’t what we mean. Putin isn’t promising them a return to the Soviet system. He is promising them something better. A good portion of even the 31% & 42% may like it.

It is rather arrogant to believe that everyone wants to be like us. Hassner quotes Henri Bergson: “Liberal democracy is the least natural regime on earth. What is natural is the rule of the strongest. Democracy can come into being only through an uphill struggle that requires courage and perseverance and that aims at a profound change in attitudes and institutions.”

COMMENT: Liberal Democracy is probably not inevitable. Francis Fukuyama was probably wrong. Liberal Democracy isn’t just going to happen. The Neocons were closer to the truth. If we act to promote Liberal Democracy, it can succeed. It is a very viable form of government, it can succeed anywhere as Natan Sharansky argues, but it won’t succeed unaided. Someone first needs to lose. And almost no one gives up without a fight. So if we want Liberal Democracy to win we are going to have to fight for it in some manner.

Note that encouraging others to “fight for it,” hasn’t worked that well. We encouraged the Iraqis to “fight for it” after the first Gulf War. We’ve been encouraging the Iranians to “fight for it” for many years, and we also encouraged the Chinese to “fight for it,” and they did, but in none of these cases did we back these fighters up. They were on their own, and that wasn’t good enough.

In the case of Iraq, we alleviated our shame somewhat by going in a second time. But we are probably not going into Iran, and we almost certainly have no intention of going into either China or Russia. So what sort of fight can we fight? We put pressure on China and they’ve added a few civil rights, and we can apply pressure elsewhere, but this may not have the result of turning these Autocracies into Liberal Democracies. It may only turn them into more agreeable Autocracies. After Iraq it will probably be a long time before we are willing to fight a military war in order to turn a nation into a Liberal Democracy.

Lawrence Helm

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who is Caesar?


I think there is a serious flaw in Neuhaus’s position.  He talks about the separation of church and state and “giving unto Caesar,” but he is living in the past.  What happens to the Church when we the people are Caesar?   We are not living in an autocracy where Caesar is in a different class and separate from us.   In the symbolism used by Jesus, we have become Caesar.  By renouncing our responsibility for influencing the state, by insisting on functioning as a “exiles from our true home, aliens in a strange land” we exempt ourselves from responsibility for this secular state that grew out of our church.  We should step up to our responsibility, throw off our pilgrim’s robes, quit whining, quit pretending it is big them against little us, and accept our role as a functioning part of our Liberal Democracy.


Lawrence Helm

Third Category People?

I was reading Tom Hart's Blog: , the section entitled "What would Machiavelli do?"

Machiavelli in The Prince, Chapter XXII, “Concerning The Secretaries of Princes” wrote, “. . . there are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, the third is useless.”

Most of the people I’ve debated fancy themselves in Machiavelli’s first category, and yet they give no evidence of thinking or studying for themselves, which has caused me to suspect that they were in the second category. I’ve regularly asked them who it is they read, who they appreciate, but they won’t admit to anyone. They continue to claim that they think for themselves -- without study or evidence of doing so; which may mean, although I’ve never accused anyone of this, that their intellect is really in the third category.

Lawrence Helm

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Knowing slipping into something else

Knowing slipping into something else

(Lawrence Helm)

She turned back and the wind

Caught her scarf and whipped

It about her shoulders

And the solemnity of her eyes

Seeing me leaving her,

As she looked that one last time,

The end of all things said.

And although I thought I knew

(The incipient burgeoning speaks

As though it knows) it is never

Reasonable to suppose one is able

To propose the thing later bound

And sealed and flung upon the stairs

Which when opened reveals

What one never really knew –

Her lovely eyes closed

As she turned and stood,

Giving me one last chance

To rush to her side and turn

Her with my hands and voice

Into the beauty I knew was slipping away.



(Lawrence Helm)

I woke from

Dreaming, having

Been sleeping

With the pack

In communal

Oneness and

Canis warmth.

We could curl

Against the seasons

And dream each

Pain away and dream

A different ontology.

I was shaman and

Persistently dreamt

I was a man

Walking in long strides

The ancient mountain

Trails which we knew

Persisted as scars

On our reality. There

Were grottoes of kindness

And love far from

The sense of the world,

Of cities which I

Could never traverse

With certainty, my

Mind continuously wrenching

Those worlds apart.

Pivotal Perspectives


(Lawrence Helm)

I drove in my last piton,

Hanging down six hundred

Feet above the canyon floor

(Falling would take a long time).

My sweaty fingers shook

As I strung my line anew

And swung to the new location.

At some point words will

Fail and I'll fall flailing

And protesting down

Toward the long standing

Rubble with consternation,

But for now I retrieve

The previous and

Set it firmly on the

Edge, screwing it in

And seeing the way

Up even if I have

To merely climb the rest

Instead of setting one

More piton half way

Beyond what I will need,

Freeing my mind to

Contemplate the edge

From a new perspective

As though I had arrived

At new understanding rather

Than a place I must climb down from.

The Autocracies; are they happy?

I have on more than one occasion expressed my admiration for the Scholastics. They taught a form of critical thinking that in my opinion has never been surpassed. In developing an argument, the student first develops the argument for the opposing side, and his instructor would listen carefully to make sure he was developing the strongest argument possible. After he had done that, he was permitted to argue against it. Robert Kagan, as do many of the best historians I’ve read in recent years, does that.

It is more than silly to suggest that he is an apologist for Autocracy. Unfortunately many, perhaps most, people cannot think critically. They take whatever they hear or read as being either for their position or against it. So while Kagan is in the first part of his process, presenting the Autocratic position as clearly and fairly as possible, the partisan listener has heard enough. Kagan is obviously a propagandist for Autocracy.

Robert Kagan writes on page 54 of The Return of History and the End of Dreams, “A majority of Russians seem content with autocratic rule, at least for now. Unlike communism, Putin’s rule does not impinge much on their personal lives if they stay out of politics. Unlike their experience with the tumultuous Russian democracy of the 1990s, the present government thanks to the high prices of oil and gas, has at least produced a rising standard of living.”

On page 56, Kagan writes, “Keen observers of the Chinese political system see a sufficient combination of competence and ruthlessness on the part of the Chinese leadership to handle problems as they arise, and a populace prepared to accept autocratic government so long as economic growth continues. . . Growing national wealth and autocracy have proven compatible, after all. Autocrats learn and adjust. The autocracies of Russian and China have figured out how to permit open economic activity while suppressing political activity. They have seen that people making money will keep their noses out of politics, especially if they know their noses will be cut off. . . in the meantime two of the world’s largest nations, with more than a billion and a half people and the second- and third-largest militaries between them, now have governments committed to autocratic rule and may be able to sustain themselves in power for the foreseeable future.”

On page 59, Kagan writes, “Chinese and Russian leaders are not just autocrats, therefore. They believe in autocracy. The modern liberal mind at ‘the end of history’ may not appreciate the enduring appeal of autocracy in this globalized world. Historically speaking, Russian and Chinese rulers are in illustrious company. The European monarchs of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were thoroughly convinced of the superiority of their form of government. Along with Plato and Aristotle and every other great thinker prior to the eighteenth century, they regard democracy as the rule of the licentious, greedy, and ignorant mob.”

In regard to Fareed Zakaria, one non-critical-thinking blogger writes, “In sum, Fareed Zakaria, once a member of the neocon camp and now a star of the liberal mainstream media, is an apologist for Islam and for Muslim extremists (assuming there is any difference between the two), as well as an advocate for the demographic and cultural Islamization of Europe. These things should never be forgotten.”

That blogger made his comment in response to a July 10th, 2005 Newsweek article. I responded to Zakaria’s 2008 book The Post-American World, but I trust I was not being as partisan as that. Zakaria takes a view shared by Fukuyama, Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel, that the Islamist threat is over-rated. I argued against that view, but I concede that I may be wrong. We are talking about what is going to happen in the future. I believe the Islamists are more fervently resolute than Zakaria, Fukuyama, Roy and Kepel do.

On page 104 Zakaria writes, “Most autocratic regimes that have modernized their economies – Taiwan, South Korea, Spain, Portugal – have weathered the political changes that followed and emerged with greater stability and legitimacy.

COMMENT: We can’t expect most moderns to think critically about Autocracies and Democracies. Many of us bought in to the triumphalism of 1989 and the end of Liberal-Democracy’s only serious competition. Liberal Democracy won. Liberal Democracy uber alles. Every intellectual worth his salt read Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 Foreign Affairs article and his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. Those who haven’t read Fukuyama at least know that the Neocon movement advocated the spread of Liberal Democracy – not that it needed to be spread, they’ll tell you. It is going to happen sooner or later, but sooner would make life easier for all of us.

But then the Chinese found a way to make their autocracy work and the Russians decided to do that too and other autocratic regimes decided that they may as well try that too. And many, even many who celebrated the triumphant victory of Liberal Democracy in 1989 and asking themselves, “can Autocracies really work. Sure, they can make themselves economically happy, but can they really be happy if they aren’t politically happy like us? In other words, can the people of an autocracy be happy if they aren’t living in a Liberal Democracy?

Well, not so fast (Fukuyama said in a different context). Anyone familiar with Chinese history (and Critical thinking) must admit that an Autocracy seems a better fit for them than Liberal Democracy – just as it seems a better fit for the Islamic Civilization.

I’m reminded of the Communist arguments current in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century. Capitalists are ruthless, money hungry, labor hating demons. Nothing will change them. But something did change them. We chipped away at them legislatively, got them to file their claws and wear muzzles and life became pretty good here in the Capitalistic West, aka the Liberal Democratic West. Now we are inclined to argue that the Autocrats will be dumber than our Western Capitalists. They aren’t going to be able to change their predator ways so revolution in these autocracies is inevitable.

Actually, Kagan hasn’t renounced his Neocon bone fides entirely. On page 57 he writes, “As the old joke goes, Germany launched itself on a trajectory of economic modernization in the late nineteenth century and within six decades became a fully fledged democracy.”

Lawrence Helm

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Practicing Poetry


(Lawrence Helm)

Where is it written

That Poetry like

Psychiatry shall be

A profession

Engaged in with rules

Of success and failure:

So many patients

Cured of Schizophrenia?

For the printed page

Is ambiguous and not

As reinforcing as the

Confessions that a Manic

Depressive might make

In his manic phase,

And if the best one

Does is doubted, then Hart

Crane may off the fan

Tail jump, but even

If a coterie of fans

Pour out their adulation

It may take more than a cup

Of belief to swallow --

As Dylan tried

In his exhaustion.

In his mystical nebulosity

He might, as Berryman

Found, his completion

In one final leap.

River Mission


(Lawrence Helm)

I am on a mission of sand

Seeking to expand its

Multisequential rendering

Each day in the steps

I've made before until

The strong winds come

To erase it all.

I shall begin again

Beside the bush and weed,

The debris dumped down

Beside the road and left

To the storm that's

Yet to come to clean

It all away.

I shall come near

And peer down at its rushing

Past above the lasting

Sand and my foot prints

Scrambled in millions

Of kaleidoscopic

Anguished churnings.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The EU failure and the End of Dreams

Reading Kagan after Zakaria is refreshing. It feels as though I’m returning to the real world. This is partly because Kagan is an Historical Realist. It is also because Zakaria is an idealist. He may deny that classification, but he has faith in his statistics, trends and economic forecasts. He looks toward the future confident in what his numbers tell him. He has tasted European idealism and declared it good. The EU followed by a host if idealistic followers has been dreaming. Not only that, they have been operating as though their dreams were a reality. Marx dreamt similar dreams long ago. First he dreamt them and then someone made a reality of them. But things can go wrong when the rest of the world isn’t dreaming with you.

Kagan, unlike Zakaria, looks at the present in terms of the past. He sees the return of 19th century power politics – something Fukuyama scoffed at. For Kagan, the EU experiment isn’t working very well.

On page 20 Kagan writes, “So what happens when a twenty-first-century entity like the EU faces the challenge of a traditional power like Russia? The answer will play itself out in coming years, but the contours of the conflict are already emerging – in diplomatic standoffs over Kosovo, Ukraine, Georgia, and Estonia; in conflicts over gas and oil pipelines; in nasty diplomatic exchanges between Russian and Great Britain; and in a return of Russian military exercises of a kind not seen since the Cold war

“Europeans are apprehensive and have reason to be. The nations of the European Union placed a mammoth bet in the 1990s. They bet on the new world order, on the primacy of geo-economics over geopolitics, in which a huge and productive European economy would compete as an equal with the United States and China. . . They cut back on their defense budgets and slowed the modernization of their militaries, calculating that soft power was in and hard power was out. They believed Europe would be a model for the world, and in a world modeled after the European Union, Europe would be strong.

“For a while this seemed a good bet. . . [but] with Russia back on its feet and seeking to restore its great power status, including predominance in its traditional spheres of influence, Europe finds itself in a most unexpected and unwanted position of geopolitical competition. This great twenty-first-century entity has, through enlargement, embroiled itself in a very nineteenth-century confrontation.

“Europe may be ill-equipped to respond to a problem that it never anticipated having to face. . . Many western Europeans already regret having brought the eastern European countries into the Union and are unlikely to seek even more confrontations with Russia by admitting such states as Georgia and Ukraine.”

Kagan wrote his book before Russia invaded Georgia, but he saw that coming. He writes on page 24, “What would Europe and the United States do if Russia played hardball in either Ukraine or Georgia? They might well do nothing. Post-modern Europe can scarcely bring itself to contemplate a return of conflict involving a great power and will go to great lengths to avoid it. Nor is the United States eager to take on Russia when it is so absorbed in the Middle East. Nevertheless, a Russian confrontation with Ukraine or Georgia would usher in a brand-new world – or rather a very old world. As one Swedish analyst has noted, ‘We’re in a new era of geopolitics. You can’t pretend otherwise.’”

Will Kane threw his badge in the dirt and rode out of town, and the town didn’t care. Frank Miller was dead. Who needs Will Kane? But then a few years later Frank Miller, wearing a ski mask, rises from his grave. He isn’t dead after all. Quick, send for Will Kane. Does anyone know where Will Kane is?

Lawrence Helm

The Post-American Zakaria

I read Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. A lot of what he has written is interesting and useful, but I have two areas of disagreement. The two are connected:

The first is the nature of the Islamist Threat. Zakaria seems still to be living in the world of Edward Said and John Esposito. Esposito wrote The Islamic Threat, Myth or Reality? Esposito argued that the threat was largely a myth. He was the expert on the Middle East most invited to the White House until 9/11. After that, he was replaced by Bernard Lewis. The Esposito view was considered discredited in the White House, but it hasn’t been discredited in Europe and elsewhere. Modern exemplars are Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel. They acknowledge a certain sort of threat coming from alienated over-educated young men, but they don’t consider the threat much wider than that.

Why do some of us consider the 1/3 of the Islamic world (perhaps 400,000,000) that holds to Islamism a threat and others do not? Perhaps I am more inclined to credit the religious fervor of the Islamists because I am a Christian and recognize religion as a motivation. I suspect that Roy, Kepel, Fukuyama and Zakaria are not religious. Perhaps that is why they dismiss the Islamist ideology as a serious motivation.

I spent some time studying Islamist theology. I read some of the writings of Maududi, Qutb and Khomeini. Zakaria criticizes the Bush administration for lumping Shiite and Suni together, but the Islamism of Maududi and Qutb is consistent with the Islamism of Khomeini. Zakaria dismisses Iran’s religious under-girding when he speculates about the military threats bordering Iran and thinks any sane person would want nuclear weapons if they were in that predicament. He thinks we ought to treat Iran like any other nation. If we can dismiss Iran’s Islamist ideology as a motivation, then Zakaria would be right, but if Said, Esposito, Roy, Kepel and Fukuyama are wrong about the nature of the threat, then it would be the height of foolishness to treat Iran like any other nation.

The idea that America is overreacting and running scared is popular in Europe. Again, if all we have to worry about are the actual Terrorists, the actual Jihadists as Fukuyama terms them, then indeed we are overreacting, but if we have to worry about the 400,000,000 Muslims who subscribe to the teachings of Islamism, then we are not overreacting. Not all 400,000,000 need to be willing to strap on bombs for them to be a coherent threat. Are Jihadists alienated from the body of Islam as Roy and Fukuyama suggests? Or do they come fully instructed and motivated out of an Islamist milieu made up of the 1/3 of all Muslims who subscribe to the Islamist ideology?

I have been assuming that the Islamist threat is real, and that it comprises the approximately 400,000,000 Muslims who embrace Islamism. To treat actual Jihadists as aberrant and atypical would, if my assumption is correct, be naïve. Zakaria would have us go back to treating the Islamists the way they were treated during the Clinton administration, as criminals, not as the spear-tip of a much larger Islamist theat.

Given Zakaria’s view about America’s over-rating the Islamist threat, we can now move to my second area of disagreement. Zakaria is unhappy with the Bush Administration for invading Iraq (although he says he supported it when it happened). Bush wanted to begin draining the swamp to make things more difficult for the Islamists. But for Zakaria, there weren’t enough Islamists to be worried about; so Bush’s actions were wrong.

Zakaria is guilty of some errors of fact when he considers Bush, errors that come from the Leftist press – not that Zakaria is guilty of Leftism that I can see – but he is influenced by the press and he is influenced by statistics. Large numbers oppose Bush, therefore Bush must be wrong. The press says Bush was a unilateralist, therefore Bush must be one. Zakaria knows that a multilateral force accompanied American forces into Iraq, but he dismisses them. On what grounds? He says some were coerced and some were from Eastern Europe and didn’t want to offend the U.S.

Here is a Wikipedia list of the troops in the Multinational force: U.S., UK, Poland, Australia, South Korea, Romania, El Salvador, Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Mongolia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Estonia, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Bulgaria, Armenia, Georgia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, New Zealand, Philippines, and Iceland. Most of them didn’t send many troops and some of these nations withdrew after awhile, but no objective person would describe this force as comprising American unilateralism. There was widespread support.

And as part of this second disagreement we must mention the UN Security council disapproval that caused the US to select its own multinational force. The two nations who were the chief roadblocks to U.N. approval of the Iraq invasion were France and Russia. These two nations, along with a relative of Kofi Annan, were implicated in the Oil for Food Scandal. It was in their interests to stop the U.S. from invading Iraq a second time. Zakaria doesn’t discuss this complexity. For after all, if there is no Islamist threat then what does it matter that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator or that important French and Russian politicians colluded with him?

But if, as many have argued, the war against Islamism is serious; then Saddam Hussein was a major impediment: He intimidated nations such as Saudi Arabia that we needed in our pursuit of Al Qaeda members, and he supported terrorism. In addition he portrayed himself as the hero who had backed down America. He fired regularly on American and British planes who had since the truce been flying over Iraq to make sure he didn’t take out his First Gulf War loss against the Northern Kurds or Southern Shiites.

There is much in Zakaria’s book I agree with but the flaws I mention above are fatal if my assumptions are correct. My assumptions would require an explanation of our current situation consistent with Huntington’s thesis. We are engaged in a clash, a major clash, with the Islamic Civilization. This isn’t a small matter that can more readily be treated as criminal. The Islamic Civilization is shot through with an antagonistic ideology that demands our destruction. It won’t be opposed by diplomacy or wishful thinking. It demands the very sort of confrontation that Bush supplied.

How do Jihadists know that Allah is blessing them, a saying goes? Allah gives them victory. If Allah didn’t give Saddam Hussein victory, then Allah didn’t bless him, and he was being touted far and wide as a great Islamic hero. To topple him was a very good thing if we want to fight this Huntington Clash in the best possible way, in a way that makes the most sense to our enemies. We will be doing very poorly in this “Clash” if we treat Iran and other nations as if they are just like a typical European nation. We won’t understand Iran or Islamism or the Islamic Civilization if we insist on looking at it, as I believe Zakaria does, through a European lens.

Lawrence Helm

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Mission

THE MISSION (Lawrence Helm)


We lit the sky with torches

Clustering on the deserted

Wall about the tower.

There should have been

An answer, some remnant

Of stability, but there

Were no signs of habitation.

We could not see

The ground beneath,

And the wall stretched

Interminably beyond.

There could be Hsiung-nu

At any break in our

Concentration, being but

A small force with no

Specific command, merely

Observers, to report anything

Untoward, but perhaps not

This eerie silence, or the lack

Of moon. We huddled there

Half way to madness until dawn.


Perhaps they are farmers

Far off farming, or they

Might be Hsiung-nu

Coming to see who walks

The wall. There should

Be soldiers here shoulder

To shoulder with great

Bows and myriads of shafts,

But as it is we stumble

On awed at the vast

Emptiness we patrol making

Our way toward another

Night above the plains.

Perhaps the moon tonight

Will glimmer upon us

Reassuringly. Hawks drift

Sullenly above . . . or are they

Vultures waiting for

A fate that can

Only be seen high up

And on the wing.


The hand eats too much.

The hen fluttered away

To the edge and then

Disappeared with receding

Sounds. No one could

Remember the day

Or when last we'd

Eaten meat. We were

No match for anything

We might encounter on

Our narrow journey.

Still, we persevered,

For that was our instruction,

And each day took us

Farther away from he

Who might rescind it.

We occasionally passed

Stairways down to the plain

But nothing could be gained

By their exploration.

Only the end would satisfy.


I am alone now, the others

Have stopped at the last

Site refusing to move.

I being the senior

Surviving officer must

Carry out the command

However long it takes.

There are breaks now

Signs of disrepair

As though no one has been

Here for a hundred years.

The birds have nested

Such that I must warily

Tread to avoid their eggs.

Some species rise and raucously

Challenge my temerity. Others

Sullenly watch my passage,

And I with head down continue.

They shall one day rationalize

Their return, for who shall

Be there to give them the lie?


Out here beyond bluster

There is no need to brandish

My spear -- no one to intimidate.

Great spears of geese

Darken the sky high up

And, unseeing, make

Melancholy my solitary journey.

This is the month

My wife may presume

Me dead and take a second

Husband. I had known

She never would, but that

Was long ago. I don't know

Her now, nor can I

Recall the face

That delighted my eyes.

Ducks too are on the move.

I doggedly struggle on,

Eating birds and eggs, striking

Knives to get a flame,

Not caring if the Hsiung-nu come.


Today some peasants fled

Upon seeing me. What

Have I become to send

Them screaming down

The stairs and across

The plains? Gray, of

Indeterminate age, shaggy,

With garments faded

And torn. Perhaps it was

My great bow and arrows;

Perhaps my sword. It must

Not be my eyes which

Have looked upon oblivion.

I have no mirror to see.

Could there have been word

Of me? Perhaps there is another

Truly deranged, that I resemble

Someone used to striking

Terror in their hearts.

My hand touches my sword.

My eyes smolder.


Is this the way of it,

Walking until one's beard

Grows long and one's eyes

Learn to stare at

Forever? I have learned

The cisterns where

Water lies and have climbed

Down briefly where

Forests loom for berries

And nuts. I shot a deer

And then spent half a day

Walking back beneath the wall

And found my arrow cleaned

Lying on a haunch . . .

All that remained.

They were fearful but

Hungry too, and a haunch

Was enough for me.

I am the Demon of the Wall,

The menacing soldier,

Guardian of ancient rites.


They leave me meals

Along the way, and wine

To appease my supposed

Wrath. How can one

Know what is expected

Save in the reflection

Of one's fellows? They fade

Away like smoke before

My gaze. I stand on

The railing and raise my

Glass to the emptiness.

What other is there to ask

Save at the end when God

Demands satisfaction.

"You shall have it. All

Is in the passage along

The wall." I have shed

My uniform for the more

Harmonious clothing

Beside the wine.

"I am your servant."


The Hsiung-nu wait arrayed

Beneath me on the plain.

I am here on the wall

Before them, their

Protector, their guide.

Solemnly they listen

Through words strange.

I know they hear me

In their souls. The wind

Catches my hair and robe.

They sigh as I seem

To sail out above them

And indeed they must

Learn the endlessness

And the ever rising

Intricacies of being.

This is, I gesture toward

The way I'd come, the

Rising way to lift them

Up into the ecstasy

Of being. I weep.


To each people comes

A prophet or a savior

And I am to

The Hsiung-nu.

Those I've schooled

Go out amongst

Them teaching

All I have told them

On the wall: a wisdom

I never knew welled

Up within me. The ravages

Of age have made me wise.

Who else has come like I

The entire distance?

They are as children.

Their up-turned faces

Wash me in glory. I

Give to them all that

I have, the beauty of seeing

The length and breadth

Of being, I bequeath them.


Others have come but

My Hsiung-nu keep me safe.

My long thin beard

Flows out upon my lap.

My hands turn up

As a sign of perpetual

Giving. I smile my delight

As they gather about

To hear whatever I have:

"Bend before the wind

And you will stand. The spear

Will reach its goal

If one holds the heart high.

Hone the sword with the mind

And I will be thy point

As on this wall I stand at the end.

Focus and thrust

Into the future

Wisdom comes with decay.

I turn to dust that you

Might turn to glory."

12 - MY LAST

Others have come and my

Hsiung-nu carry me away.

It isn't enough that

I teach them to focus

Power. The wall is

Garrisoned, and we are

Once again driven away.

Behold this dust that

Clogs the nostrils and numbs

The mind -- red as though

The blood of many

Has poured upon the

Land. I sketch upon it

What you must know

Showing you the bow

And the way of the warrior

That in the soft of night

Beckoning eternity

You might remember

And, when you smell

The dust, believe.