Monday, June 29, 2009

The "real" struggle in Iran?

The above is an article by George Friedman entitled, “The Real Struggle in Iran and Implications for U.S. Dialogue.”

Friedman is the head of Stratfor which provides intelligence information to business investors and other parties interested in foreign affairs. His analysis of the “struggle in Iran” isn’t quite what we have been getting from the media. He sees the real struggle as being between the old-guard clerics represented by Rafsanjani and the populists represented by Ahmadinejad. Rafsanjani is rich. Ahmadinejad is something of an ascetic.

In trying to determine which side we ought to root for, Friedman tells us it doesn’t make any difference: The question for the rest of the world is simple: Does it matter who wins this fight? We would argue that the policy differences between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani are minimal and probably would not affect Iran’s foreign relations. This fight simply isn’t about foreign policy.”

In regard to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, Friedman tells us not to worry: “We do not believe that Iran is close to obtaining a nuclear weapon, a point we have made frequently. Iran understands that the actual acquisition of a nuclear weapon would lead to immediate U.S. or Israeli attacks. Accordingly, Iran’s ideal position is to be seen as developing nuclear weapons, but not close to having them. This gives Tehran a platform for bargaining without triggering Iran’s destruction, a task at which it has proved sure-footed.”

Friedman sees as the more serious threat, and a defensive rather than offensive one, not the doomsday blocking of the straits of Hormuz or the bombing of Israel but Iran’s “capabilities in Iraq and Lebanon. Should the United States or Israel attack, Iran would thus be able to counter by doing everything possible to destabilize Iraq — bogging down U.S. forces there — while simultaneously using Hezbollah’s global reach to carry out terror attacks. After all, Hezbollah is today’s al Qaeda on steroids. The radical Shiite group’s ability, coupled with that of Iranian intelligence, is substantial.

“We see no likelihood that any Iranian government would abandon this two-pronged strategy without substantial guarantees and concessions from the West. Those would have to include guarantees of noninterference in Iranian affairs. Obama, of course, has been aware of this bedrock condition, which is why he went out of his way before the election to assure Khamenei in a letter that the United States had no intention of interfering.

“Though Iran did not hesitate to lash out at CNN’s coverage of the protests, the Iranians know that the U.S. government doesn’t control CNN’s coverage. But Tehran takes a slightly different view of the BBC. The Iranians saw the depiction of the demonstrations as a democratic uprising against a repressive regime as a deliberate attempt by British state-run media to inflame the situation. This allowed the Iranians to vigorously blame some foreigner for the unrest without making the United States the primary villain.”

Friedman tells us that “The fantasy of a democratic revolution overthrowing the Islamic Republic — and thus solving everyone’s foreign policy problems a la the 1991 Soviet collapse — has passed.

“That means that Obama, as the primary player in Iranian foreign affairs, must now define an Iran policy — particularly given Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s meeting in Washington with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell this Monday. Obama has said that nothing that has happened in Iran makes dialogue impossible, but opening dialogue is easier said than done. The Republicans consistently have opposed an opening to Iran; now they are joined by Democrats, who oppose dialogue with nations they regard as human rights violators. Obama still has room for maneuver, but it is not clear where he thinks he is maneuvering. The Iranians have consistently rejected dialogue if it involves any preconditions. But given the events of the past weeks, and the perceptions about them that have now been locked into the public mind, Obama isn’t going to be able to make many concessions.”

The above makes it sound as though Obama might actually have a diplomatic strategy at work, but Friedman’s final paragraph is to the contrary: “It would appear to us that in this, as in many other things, Obama will be following the Bush strategy — namely, criticizing Iran without actually doing anything about it. And so he goes to Moscow more aware than ever that Russia could cause the United States a great deal of pain if it proceeded with weapons transfers to Iran, a country locked in a political crisis and unlikely to emerge from it in a pleasant state of mind”


I don’t actually subscribe to Strator, but I do get a weekly “teaser article" like the above. As I began reading I thought, “oh no. Friedman has come up with something I haven’t thought of. Perhaps I should subscribe to Strafor after all.” My brain started rationalizing my limitations: I am one man reading foreign affairs publications. How can I be expected to keep up with Stratfor who has agents out in the field.

But then I read Friedman’s bottom line and I would invite any reader to compare it to what I wrote on 6-27-09: . In that article I describe Obama as seeming to follow in Bush’s footsteps rather than engaging in the pursuit of some diplomatic strategy. So I don’t have to give up as many points to Friedman on that issue as I thought I might.

But there is one area where Friedman has come up with something I hadn’t thought of, namely that Iran is not serious about developing nuclear weapons. They are engaging in something very like a bluff: “. . . Iran’s ideal position is to be seen as developing nuclear weapons, but not close to having them. This gives Tehran a platform for bargaining without triggering Iran’s destruction, a task at which it has proved sure-footed.”

If Friedman is right then I am wrong about the need for the US or Israel to prepare to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, much as Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak facility back in 1980. Or rather, it would be right for the US and Israel to “wargame” that attack and be prepared to execute it, but it isn’t correct to assume that Iran will actually try to build nuclear weapons. If Friedman actually knows that as a result of having Stratfor operatives out there in the field, then I would be impressed. We shall see . . . or perhaps we won’t.

More on the Ridgeback Weapons System

We never have just one reason for any important decision we make. It is out there like a challenge and we mount our arguments one after the other and come to a conclusion. But if we haven’t made the decision yet, if it is a long way off as for example the next dog we intend to get, then some new consideration may come to mind forcing us to revisit our “conclusion,” which must remain tentative until we act upon it.

Perhaps all the Ridgeback owners I’ve had discussions with value their Ridgeback’s capability as a weapon system (in the sense that the Okinawan’s fist is one. See ). I haven’t gone beyond that common consideration when I value my two Ridgebacks and any future Ridgeback I might get for its capability as a weapons system.

Of course there are other reasons, justifications, rationalizations, etc. for owning a Ridgeback, as I say, never just one. In my own case, I value their quietness. If I want to write or read, they are content to let me. If someone comes to the door, only one of them will bark, Sage, and she barks just once. Also, they are very smart and adjust fairly quickly to my lifestyle. And also, I am more used to the Ridgeback than any other breed.

But next time around, I may decide to modify my weapons system a bit. There are drawbacks to walking 190 pounds of energetic Ridgeback. Perhaps next time I could seek out just one Ridgeback, perhaps a smaller one, and then if I decide to get a second dog, I might get an even smaller breed. I’ve discussed this possibility at length elsewhere. I realize there would be a tradeoff. Having two Ridgebacks is an excellent weapons system. If I opt for another breed, and it is on the list in the previous article, I won’t necessarily be giving up Okinawan-type self-defense, but I may be giving up some quietness when I want to study. A smaller dog wouldn’t be jerking me about quite as much if a rabbit or squirrel darted out of a bush in front of us, but it would probably bark much more when someone is at the front door.

If the second, smaller dog, is more active than the Ridgeback inside, and what breed isn’t, there would be an upside. He or she would be more alert to what is going on inside the house and the yard.

My current “tentative conclusion” is that a “small” male Ridgeback of 80 pounds or so and a female American Staffordshire Terrier of 40 pounds or so would provide an equivalent or perhaps greater “weapons system” than what I have now. While my male Ridgeback would be napping with me upstairs in my study, the little Amstaff would be doing something a little more active.

In the past I have used as a “test scenario” the ability of any smaller dog to handle itself down at the river where there are coyotes and feral dogs. Although I have never owned an Amstaff, I imagine a forty pound female would do okay against those challenges, especially if her sidekick was an 80-pound Ridgeback.

And then, in regard to the hypothetical situation which began this discussion, walking out in the dark places at night where muggers lurk (although I hasten to admit that I have never seen a mugger in San Jacinto) a Ridgeback-Amstaff combination would do quite as well as a team of Ridgebacks.

I could buy several guns for what I would be paying for a Ridgeback and an Amstaff, but, I must admit, I already have several guns and don’t need any more. Whereas I know Ridgebacks are very good company, and, I hear tell that Amstaffs are as well. And as long as I’m going to wait on days like today, when the temperature reaches 100, until it is very late, and cool, before going for a walk, I would want the company of one or two dogs.

If it were legal for me to carry a gun, I would, but I would still have a dog. A gun is no deterrent if the mugger doesn’t know you have it. And if you brandish it in an attempt to scare him off, you may have to use it. If guns were legal here in California I would carry one at night, but I would have gods as well, and consider the gun an enhancement of my “weapons system.” Consider what the Okinawan would do if he were allowed to have a gun. Would he give up practicing Karate? Of course that is a hypothetical consideration. He was not allowed to carry a gun -- and neither am I.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Obama's criticism of Iran,0,4316322.story

The above is an L.A. Times article posted 6-27-09 by Borzou Daragahi which he entitled “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says criticism of Tehran's crackdown on dissenters was 'abnormal and discourteous.' I’ll quote a few passages and provide comments below:

“. . . President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, emerging from a period of relative quiet, criticized Obama for making "unconventional, abnormal and discourteous comments" in condemning the violence and political repression.”

“ . . . The Obama administration hoped to broach talks with Iran this year to resolve a long-standing dispute over Iran's nuclear program. The post-election violence against Mousavi's green-clad movement makes it politically difficult for U.S. officials to have contact with Iranian officials. After welcoming Iranian diplomats to join in Fourth of July celebrations at U.S. embassies, the Obama administration rescinded the invitations.

"”They constantly say that they want to talk with Iran," Ahmadinejad said in a meeting with judiciary officials. "OK. We have announced our readiness. But do they expect us to talk with such comments? He made a mistake.’"

“Ahmadinejad again repeated his warning that Obama avoid following in the footsteps of former President George W. Bush. ‘He also used to speak to the world from a position of arrogance and egotism, but you saw how God brought him down to abjectness and buried him in the dustbin of history,’ he said in comments broadcast on state radio.

"’We do not expect much from those few European countries because they do not enjoy any particular status in the world," he said. "However, we are surprised at Mr. Obama.’"


I had a debate the other day with a right-wing partisan. She was criticizing Obama for not speaking out against the savage treatment of the Iranian Protestors by the current regime there. No, no, I said. You don’t understand about diplomacy. Obama can’t speak out, at least not in any serious way. He must endure whatever occurs there so that he will have his chance to be diplomatic. He can’t follow in Bush’s footsteps, for that would ultimately lead to some military action (if he hoped to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions). He can’t side with the Protestors unless he wants to engage in military action; which he obviously doesn’t. So it is good, from the standpoint of diplomacy, that he doesn’t criticize what is going on there.

In the meantime right-wingers such as Sean Hannity lambasted Obama for not having the courage to criticize the poor treatment of the Protestors. And when Obama did speak out, Hannity said it was much too late and that he spoke out only because Republicans forced him into it.

Gad! Has Obama abandoned his hope of dealing with Iran diplomatically because of right-wing accusations of weakness? I am disappointed. I hoped to see him cleverly keep his mouth shut until he had a chance to meet Ahmadinejad face to face. I hoped to see the wonders of his diplomacy.

Did he give up the diplomatic approach, as it seems, because he was forced to do so by critics? Or did he give up the idea of diplomacy after learning more about Ahmadinejad and the current regime? I commented about Ahmadinejad saying he didn’t seem open to reason and that military action seemed to be demanded if we were serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but when Obama was elected, I was perfectly willing to give him his chance to try diplomacy. I’m sure I said some place that I didn’t think diplomacy would work, but I was open to his trying it. I hoped it would work. I was very willing to “suspend disbelief” while Obama had his chance. But as Ahmadinejad says above, “He made a mistake.”

Is it time for a new “Operation Opera”? Are you up for that, President Obama?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wargame: Iran vs. the US

In the July/August 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs is the article “The Pentagon’s Wasting Assets, the Eroding Foundations of American Power by Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. I recall speculation in a discussion group a few years back about how we or Israel might go about destroying Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. This article provides the record of just such a wargame:

“In the summer of 2002, the Pentagon conducted its largest war-gaming exercise since the end of the Cold war. Called Millennium Challenge 2002, it pitted the United States against an ‘unnamed Persian gulf military’ meant to be a stand-in for Iran. The outcome was disquieting: what many expected to be yet another demonstration of the United States’ military might turned out to be anything but.

“The ‘Iranian’ forces, led by retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, successfully countered the U.S. forces at every turn. The U.S. fleet that steamed into the Persian Gulf found itself subjected to a surprise attack by swarms of Iranian suicide vessels and antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs). Well over half the U.S. ships were sunk or otherwise put out of action in what would have been the United States’ worst naval disaster since Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, Van Riper kept his Iranian cruise and ballistic missile forces on the move, frustrating the U.S. commanders’ efforts to track and destroy them. Rather than turn his air-defense radars on and expose them to prompt destruction from U.S. aircraft armed with antiradiation missiles, Van Riper left his units’ systems turned off. Since no one could be sure of where the Iranian defenses were positioned, it was risky for U.S. cargo aircraft to land and resupply the U.S. ground forces that had deployed on Iranian soil.

“Exasperated and embarrassed at the success of the mock Iranian force, the senior U.S. commanders overseeing the war game’s progress called for a ‘do-over.’ They directed the U.S. fleet to be ‘refloated’ and compelled the enemy forces to turn on their radars and expose themselves to attack. The enemy missile forces were ordered to cease their evasive maneuvers. Recast in this manner – and with Van Riper ‘relieved’ of his command, apparently for having executed it too well – the game proceeded to a much more agreeable conclusion.”


Krepinevich paints a rather harsh picture of this 2002 wargame. Why would they have a “do-over”? Krepinevich implies, “for no good reason.” But I can think of a good reason. They were defeated the first time because they were up against a highly-skilled general who was very familiar with American tactics and capabilities. Maybe they knew that Iran had no such general; so as long as we’re all here, they might have said, let’s do it again with what we suspect are Iran’s real capabilities. If what I described is closer to what actually happened than Krepinevich’s critical account, then some useful data would have been obtained from the “do over.”

However, the U.S. would have afterward quizzed the participants for “lessons learned.” One obvious lesson learned would be that if Iran obtained a top-notch general, an invading U.S. force would be in big trouble. And then there would be the less obvious lessons which we aren’t informed of: new tactics that take account of the lessons learned.

When I was discussing this years ago, I didn’t imagine an invasion. I imagined an Operation Opera-type attack intended to knock-out Iran’s nuclear weapons’ capabilities and stores in the same way Israel knocked out Iraq’s.

Saddam "bluffed about WMD" to ward off Iran

The above is an article from the “Global Security Newswire,” dated June 26, 2009. It is entitled “Hussein Told FBI He Bluffed about WMD to Ward Off Iran”:

“Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein told U.S. interrogators in 2004 that he had disposed of his weapons of mass destruction long before a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq, but he would have used the weapons against U.S. troops if he had kept them . . .”

“The main reason he pretended to still have weapons of mass destruction was because he was afraid of Iran, according to FBI records of Hussein's interrogation, recently acquired by the Daily News under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The former dictator said he was so worried about how Iran would react if U.N. weapons inspectors revealed that Iraq had no more weapons of mass destruction, he might have approached Washington for protection.

“Hussein told questioners that ‘Iraq would have been extremely vulnerable to attack from Iran and would have sought a security agreement with the U.S. to protect it from threats in the region,’ reads an FBI report from the interrogation.

“In response to questions about any relationship with Osama bin Laden, Hussein referred to the al-Qaeda leader as a ‘zealot’ and stressed that they had never met. Teaming up with al-Qaeda would have been too risky because the religious extremists might have eventually targeted him, Hussein said. A likelier collaborator for Iraq ‘would have been North Korea,’ he said. . . .”


All but left-wing zealots knew most this already. We heard reports from some of Saddam’s generals indicating that they believed he had WMDs. Saddam’s bluff was pretty good. We just didn’t know his motivation.

But now that we have this FBI report, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we can suggest a revision to one of the Left-Wing slogans. The revised slogan should read “Saddam lied and people died.”

The previous slogan “Bush lied and people died” was always preposterous, but now it can even more clearly be seen as such. How could Bush have seen through Saddam’s “bluff” when even his generals couldn’t? If Leftists were capable of reason, they would have known that. If they were capable of reason then they would have been lying when they produced their slogan about Bush. However, I can exonerate these Leftists from my own experience. I have never known one to be capable of reason.

Hunkering down for the resumption of history

Doesn’t everyone living in a non-Liberal-Democratic nation long to be “free” – free as we are in Europe and the U.S.? Not China and surely not Russia we hasten to answer. It is naïve to believe that the people of Russia, China, and other non-Liberal-Democratic nations want to be just like us. But near-term events don’t materially affect Francis Fukuyama’s thesis about the “end of history” which may take awhile. His thesis is Hegelian in nature. History is deterministic as Hegel has argued, and the end of history, as Hegel, Kojeve and Fukuyama argue will occur when Liberal Democracy has replaced all the other forms of society.

The current issue of the London Review of Books has a review of Gillian Tett’s book Fool’s Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe. Reading this review by Donald MacKenzie gave me a headache. Quite a lot is known about how it happened, but Tett seems to think it could have been prevented with just a tiny bit of regulation. The J.P. Morgan people originated the scheme (and you must read Tett’s book, or the above review to find it defined), but they didn’t let greed carry them to excess. So had there been some regulation in effect, something to make the other banks behaved more like J. P. Morgan, all would have been well. Tett is accused of having studied these bankers so much that she has “gone native,” meaning, her accusers argue, that far more regulation than she proposes is called for, but MacKenzie thinks she has the right of it.

In any case, the image of the American version of “free-market economy” has suffered in the eyes of many people, especially those people incapable of understanding (as Tett and MacKenzie probably do as much as anyone) what went wrong.

Will this “Unrestrained Greed” result in the end of the advance toward global Liberal Democracy? Have the Free-Market aspects of Liberal Democracy betrayed Fukuyama’s thesis?

In the current July/August 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs is an article entitled “Globalization in Retreat.” Nguyen Dinh Huynh provides the article on his web site: One may read it there along with Nguyen Dinh Huynh’s highlighting.

Altman believes the spread of American Liberal Democracy has suffered an enormous setback. He tells us “Much of the world . . . blames U.S. financial excesses for the global recession. This has put the U.S. model of free-market capitalism out of favor.”

Altman tells us that during this economic crisis, “Only China has prevailed. China’s growth did diminish but now may be picking up again. . . And measured by its estimated $2.3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, no nation is wealthier.”

Implicit in Altman’s article is the view that Nationalism is gaining ground against Globalization. Globalization is (in effect) another name for Fukuyama’s “end of history.” Once the world has been thoroughly globalized. Once every nation is a Liberal Democracy committed to a world-wide free market economy, then the “end of history” will have been achieved. But if Liberal Democracy has fallen into disrepute, we may well return to a Wilson-Roosevelt model where the great powers exert influence on lesser nations. That is essentially what Altman is telling us when he writes, “It is increasingly clear that the U.S.-Chinese relationship will emerge as the most important bilateral one in the world. The two nations have similar geopolitical interests. Neither wants Iran to be destabilized, or Pakistan to become a failed state.”

On page 150 of the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs is a debate between Azar Gat (arguing that non-Liberal-Democratic nations may succeed as well as Liberal Democratic nations) and Deudney, Ikenberry, Inglehart, and Welzel (arguing that non-Liberal-Democratic nations cannot compete in the long run). Although all four of Gat’s antagonists waste space by denying that they are taking a deterministic stance. Gat, unlike the four (or so it seems to me), has read and understood Fukuyama and recognizes that their arguments derive from his – and Fukuyama’s arguments are deterministic.

Gat has written War in Human Civilization, in which, I gather, he has taken a position similar to that taken by Steven LeBlanc, Richard Wrangham and others who believe we are hard-wired for war. That doesn’t mean that we are instinctively driven to fight each other willy-nilly. It means that wars are one of the instinctive (traditional) ways we solve certain sorts of problems. If our families are starving and the tribe a few miles away has lots of food, we will do our best to get some of that food. If we don’t have enough women, and another tribe does, then we shall raid that tribe and steal some women. We have done this since hunter-gatherer days and perhaps even before as the study of Chimpanzees as our closest relative suggests.

If we can figure out a way to solve all the wants and needs of our species without war, then theoretically no nation would have to invade another, but when we review the “wants and needs” of our history the possibility of any system that could satisfy them all seems improbable. That is why David Fromkin toward the end of The Independence of Nations found hope in our space program. Only when we are near each other is there an occasion for war. If we can spread out in space then we put separation between ourselves and reduce the likelihood of war.

In don’t know what is motivating NASA, but it, along with other scientists are seriously studying other places in our solar system we might live. I knew of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, but I was surprised to learn that one scientist has proposed a method for colonizing Venus -- which has a surface pressure 92 times that of earth and a surface temperature of 860 degrees Fahrenheit. How could we possibly colonize such a planet? By living in balloon cities 35,000 feet about the surface. Up there, the scientist assures us, conditions are quite pleasant. I can think of problems with that concept, but perhaps this fellow has thought of the solutions. Better to lose a few people colonizing Venus, Fromkin would say, than a whole bunch in wars back on earth.

Altman at the end of his article says that “President Obama [has the] enormous goodwill [of other nations]. He has a uniquely influential podium, which he could use to espouse the benefits of globalization and market liberalization.” Altman concludes with the words “It is too soon to know whether he will use it that way. Let us hope that he does.” But nothing Altman has written in the rest of the article suggests that he really thinks Obama will do that. Are there Democrats that support Globalization? Yeah, sure, but I have no confidence that Obama is one of them.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Russia disagrees with G8 on Iran

The above is an article by Daniel Flynn and Phil Stewart posted on Reuters on June 25th.

I’ll quote a bit of the article and comment below.

“Western nations at a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in Trieste were pushing for tough language in a final communiqué on Iran, where about 20 people have been killed in demonstrations following the June 12 presidential election two weeks ago.

"”We are working on a document that should condemn the violence and the repression and at the same time stress that electoral procedures are an (internal) Iranian matter,’ said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

“But he cautioned: "We (the international community) can't recount the vote." The statement is expected on Friday. Delegates to the G8 conference, getting under way with a dinner on Thursday evening, were wrestling over the wording of the statement on Iran to take into account the sensibilities of Moscow, which has already said it considers all issues linked to the election as Iran's internal affair.”
. . .

"’We agreed that we will develop a language which would allow us to concentrate on the main task -- to move toward resolving the issues of the Iranian nuclear programme...,’ Lavrov said after separate talks with Frattini.

"’Isolation is the wrong approach ... Engagement is the key word,’ he said.
. . .

“Diplomats had seen the June 25-27 event as a rare chance for the Group of Eight nations to sit down with regional powers like Iran to discuss shared goals for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Iran declined to answer Italy's invitation to attend.

“U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also absent after hurting her arm.

. . .


I’m reminded of the American election between George Bush and Al Gore. I followed those proceedings closely and believe Bush was the winner. A pro-Gore group followed up after the election and recounted the Florida ballots once again, I suppose with a view toward denying even more strongly that Bush was elected legitimately. The recount was once again in Bush’s favor, but those who wanted to believe Bush “stole” the election, continued to do so. My point here is that the Gore supporters became and remained emotional about that election and took every chance from then on, many of them, to insult Bush personally and denigrate almost everything he did.

There is apparently no possibility of going back and recounting “hanging chads” in the Iranian election. So there is even more room for the losers to imagine the worse. Bush was an unknown quantity in 2000, but Ahmadinejad has a reputation for bellicosity toward the West. He has projected a willingness to use missiles against Israel and an unwillingness to “dialogue” with the West or with Obama.

Many in Iran can see that Ahmadinejad is behaving like a dictator. He learned ruthlessness in the Republican Guard a force that may keep him in office even if the protestors cause a governmental collapse. If we don’t like this Florida-like Keystone-cop election, how much less will we appreciate a military coup by the Republican guard.

This G8 conference may have been a very good occasion for the American representative to have an incapacitating broken arm. If Italy condemns the brutal treatment of Iranian protestors, well, that’s just Italy. But if America condemns it, well, then the CIA must be behind the protestors.

Of course if the protestors were actually to overthrow the current regime, and the Republican Guard were to stay out of it, then the new regime would be entitled to feel critical of the lack of support shown by the Obama administration, but let’s see a show of hands. How many think that is going to happen?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Henry James' Watch and Ward

Years ago I resolved to read all the works of several novelists I happened to be impressed with at the time. I may have managed a sizable dent, but I never quite finished all the novels. In the case of Henry James, I read his better novels, but few of the lesser ones. I invariably discovered they were classified “lesser” for good reason.

Watch and Ward was James very first novel, and the least of his lesser novels, if he is to be our judge in the matter. It was first published in 1871, serialized in The Atlantic Monthly. James later disowned the novel and began referring to his next one, Roderick Random, as his first.

The main plot is a variation on the Pygmalion theme. Roger Lawrence, an idealistic fellow who is in love with love in a highly exalted sense, is spurned by the woman he wants and then by chance he is left with a 12-year-old orphan. He conceives the idea of transforming her into the perfect woman. He gets her the best education, the finest polishing, and indeed she blossoms into a spectacularly beautiful and accomplished young lady.

But the idealistic Roger wants this young lady, Nora Lambert, to fall in love with him. As it happens she naively falls for Fenton, her cousin and more seriously Hubert, Roger’s cousin. Fenton is a scoundrel and Hubert is a weakling and hypocrite, but Nora can’t see them for what they are. She is after all a teenager of 16 or so. Still, she doesn’t go against Roger’s wishes until he declares his love for her when she reaches the age of 18. She is utterly surprised, rejects him and decides to temporarily seek the aid of first Fenton and then Hubert. Coming upon them when they were not prepared, she is at last able to see them both for what they are. Shortly thereafter, the distraught Roger shows up looking for her and she realizes that she loves him.

I can see why the novel isn’t highly regarded, but it is not far off the mark. It begins weakly and perhaps Roger should be given a more balanced nature, but for James’ purpose at the time, maybe Roger was as he needed to be. I can forgive James for Roger. He sort of grows on one. The novel moves smartly along and the reader (at least this reader) cares about both Roger and Nora.

Nora is nearly all that a Pygmalion should be., but she is after all a young girl, and it shouldn’t surprise us that she is attracted to the flashier Hubert and Fenton. We should rather blame Roger for forcing her to discover their inadequacies on her own. Still, Roger is being consistent in his idealism, even though he has doubts, he doesn’t linger over them and continues seeking to make Nora into the woman he wants.

Perhaps Nora should have suspected that Roger was in love with her, but he won’t let her know that as long as she is too young and in his care. He pushes her beyond his care and then declares himself, which is very confusing to Nora. It probably would be to any woman.

I am very unhappy with the ending of the novel. James is quite willing to tell us what Roger and Nora are thinking throughout the novel, but what were they thinking standing out in front of Hubert’s when Nora takes back the farewell letter she had previously sent Roger and tears it slowly “ . . . ‘into a dozen pieces, never taking her eyes off his own ‘Don’t try and forget that I wrote it,’ she said. ‘My destroying it now means more than that would have meant’”?

Roger doesn’t understand what she means and neither do we. Her last evaluation of Roger was as a beloved guardian, not as a lover or husband. Tearing up the letter which had declared that she was leaving him and intended to make her own way as a music teacher is a long way from a declaration of love. Roger asks as we might, “’What does it mean, Nora?’’”

Here is her chance to say that she realizes that she loves Roger and no one else, but she doesn’t say that. Instead she says “’It means that I’m a wiser girl to-day than then. I know myself better, I know you better. O Roger!’ She cried, ‘it means everything!’”

Roger can’t possibly understand what she means, but whatever it is, it must mean she is willing to go back with him. Whatever it means, it is in his favor, and being Roger he doesn’t ask for an elaboration: “He passed her hand through his arm and held it there against his heart, while he stood looking hard at the pavement, as if to steady himself amid this great convulsion of things. Then raising his head, ‘Come,’ he said; ‘come!’”

But she isn’t quite ready to go with him. She wants to confess, to blame herself for her shallow attraction to Hubert at the very least. But Roger doesn’t want to hear any of this. He shuts her off, albeit with a “smile of consummate tenderness” and tells her “My dear Nora, what have we to do with Hubert’s young girls?”

And that is essentially the end. James adds an unworthy final paragraph implying Roger and Nora live happily ever after. He then tells us a bit more about Hubert and his wife. Surely we have lost interest in Hubert by this time; haven’t we?

Another problem I have with the novel is the strange subplot involving Miss Sandys. She is stunningly beautiful and Roger is attracted to her. and is surprised to discover that she is attracted to him. He fancies she is way above him and is flattered that she can be interested in him. She seems to him what Nora will become in another ten years. She is wise, kind, and gracious. By the time Nora ran off to seek the aid of Fenton and Hubert, I was hoping Nora would marry one of them and Roger would turn to the worthier Miss Sandys, but that wasn’t to be. When Roger shows up in New York looking for Nora, he runs into Miss Sandys and tells her everything as he does each time he meets her. She invites him to come by the next day and he enigmatically says, not now, a year from now – whatever that means.

It may be that James as he serialized the novel, hadn’t made up his mind whether to reward Roger with Miss Sandys or Nora. And by the time he reached the end and decided Roger must have his Nora, it was impossible to go back and fix this subplot.

Logically, Roger needs to remain true to Nora. How could the idealistic Roger abandon the girl he had devoted his life to? He couldn’t. Even if Miss Sandys was a ready-made Pygmalion, it would be out of character for Roger to give up on Nora.

Since Miss Sandys has been left in, what becomes of her? I would far rather learn about her than about Hubert in that dreadful final paragraph.

On the death of Neda Soltan

The above is a very touching analysis by Melody Moezzi, an Iranian American, of the situation that has arisen over the repression of the protestors and especially over the death of Neda Soltan.

Perhaps everyone has seen the You Tube video taken shortly after Neda Soltan. was shot by an Iranian Militiaman, a Basij. If not, here it is:

If there were an isolated incident here in America, a shooting or someone bitten by a pit bull, and the American Media made a big deal about it, I would object. I would say this isn’t a typical situation. It doesn’t happen all the time, but in a population as large as we have all sorts of things can happen. Don’t blow it out of proportion, I would say.

But that is not what has happened with Neda Soltan. There is serious unhappiness, perhaps outrage, over the high-handed behavior of authorities during the election. Who knows how many in Iran are unhappy with Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah. The very existence of the Basij is an outrage and an offense, in my opinion. They go about abusing women if they don’t conform to their view of proper Islamic behavior. Now, one of them has executed this young woman, Neda Soltan. In appearance she was obviously not conforming to the dress code. She was with or near the protestors; so one of the Basij took it upon himself to shoot her.

As Melody Moezzi has said, the Iranians are Shia and for the Shia martyrs are very important. And now the Basij have created a new martyr. Just because it is the Basij and not the official police isn’t going to make any difference – the authorities are siding with the Basij and calling Neda Soltan a “terrorist.” That is, they said all those killed were terrorists.

I have watched these videos, feel their emotional impact and I am not Iranian. I can only guess at the impact they are having In Iran.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Warfare -- wise and foolish tactics and strategies

[See Michael Kuznetsov's note below mine]


In my earlier notes on warfare, I was referring to strategy and not tactics. It is often the case that a tactical decision is made to send an inferior force against a superior one as a delaying action. One thinks of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans delaying the Persian force at Thermopylae. There are many other such examples in military history.

Strategically, Persia had the superior army and believed it was attacking an inferior army, or armies, when it attacked Greece. That Persia was not successful was due to a variety of reasons, but Persia was acting in accordance with the hard-wiring for warfare that Leblanc speaks of. It believed it was up against a numerically inferior force and would win. The larger number usually wins, as we know, and when it doesn't it is the result of poor leadership, poor choice of terrain, bad weather, etc.

The individual soldier is inherently the same throughout the world. Differences arise because of training, tradition, and technology. The Spartans at Thermopylae were much better trained than all but a few of the Persian forces. They also had a tradition that made them very difficult to vanquish.

When I read of French forces refusing to fight in certain battles in World War One, for example, I don't feel critical of the individual soldier. I am quite sure the individual French soldier was and is as competent as the solders of any other nationality. Instead I fault the French leadership at the time. The French, Germans and British were fighting a "war of attrition." Soldiers will go to certain death if there is a good reason for doing so. The French, British and Germans in World War One didn't have a good reason. The French leadership thought it was good to send soldiers with fixed bayonets against German machine guns. It must have been very difficult for the French soldier to grasp the sense of that. The French refusal, in my opinion was the fault of faulty leadership and faulty strategy and tactics.

The French exhibited poor leadership again at Dien Bien Phu. The French soldiers fought heroically, but that isn't enough if leadership is inadequate or inept.

Eisenhower had a poor opinion of the French soldier after World War One and believed American forces would do better in Vietnam than the French ones. He was mistaken. Also, the American tactics were as inadequate as the French ones. The Americans moved their World-War-Two tactics, tanks and all, into the Vietnamese jungles and did poorly – well not exactly poorly. They were not defeated in pitched battles as the French were, but the Vietnamese used tactics the Americans were not expecting and the adjustment was slow.

The American forces should have understood asymmetric warfare. They used it against the British in their Revolutionary war. But they didn't make an adequate adjustment in Vietnam.

The same thing can be said about the Russians in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was Russia's exposure to asymmetric warfare. The Russians made the same tactical errors the Americans did. I think the last time this subject came up Michael took comfort in the fact that the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan with more dignity than the Americans did from Vietnam. Yes, that was true. America as the great haven for immigrants tried to take as many away with them as possible, but more wanted to come, and the Americans couldn't take them all. It was a chaotic time. The Russians, probably didn't take many Afghan allies with them when they returned to Russia. Their return would of course have been more orderly.

The Obama administration may have "counted the cost" relative to both North Korea and Iran. It has calculated that while it may have many more than 10,000 men, they are over-extended, and the country, not to mention its current leadership, is not inclined at present to engage in a new war. It has seen North Korea and Iran coming from a "long way off" and is suing for peace.

For America to decide to use military force to accomplish its international goals it must have leadership willing to use that force. Obama is at least willing to continue in Iraq until the Iraqis are more self-sustaining. Also, he has made Afghanistan his own special project. He is not facing the same situation that the Russians did – at least I don't think he is. The USSR at the time was trying to establish a Communist-type government in Afghanistan. The US at the present time isn't attempting that. It is trying to establish a stable government capable of opposing the local Islamists, the Taliban. Most of Afghanistan is in favor of that, if I understand the situation correctly.

But it isn't just Afghanistan that Obama will have to deal with. The Islamists go back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan with impunity. And Obama is willing to bomb Islamists even if they go into Pakistan.

And if I were asked to choose a single trouble spot for America to resolve today, I would favor the Afghan-Pakistan area that Obama has committed US forces to. It represents more danger than Iran does. And while anything can happen in that psychotic nation called North Korea, the trouble there has been abetted by South Korea, Japan and China. The onus is on those nations, more than on the US, to solve the North Korean problem. Yes, the North Koreans are addressing their bluster against the US, but we are doing very little to oppose them. Checking their ships may hurt their feelings, but it is not direct military action. And if North Korea decides to take direct military action, it will be against South Korea which has until recently favored diplomatic ploys such as the "Sunshine Policy."

We shouldn't abandon South Korea and Japan, but the North Korean onus is not on us as it is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It isn't even on us to that extent in Iran. Europe and Russia both favor a diplomatic solution in Iran, and Obama is more than willing to go along with that.

Obama's "strategy" in Afghanistan and Pakistan is limited: Get the Taliban out of Afghanistan. His authority for chasing the Taliban out of Afghanistan is clearer than for dealing with it after it crosses into Pakistan. Harking back to Stephen Peter Rosen who in "Blood Brothers, the Dual Origins of American Bellicosity" argued that while the Scots-Irish are always willing to fight, the Puritans need proper authorization. So what is our "authorization" for bombing Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Pakistan? I'm sure our Puritans can understand as well as our Scots-Irish that an Islamist-controlled Pakistan would be a worst-case scenario in this modern world. These are the same people that brought us 9/11. Do we want them to be in control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons? Obama might have to make a decision about American military action if the Pakistani military were to lose control there. Would he "count the cost" and figure he could defeat the Taliban and their allies in Pakistan?

I'm sure Obama would prefer not having to formally go to war in Pakistan, but "counting the cost" would need to be considered from another standpoint than that described in Luke 14. Can we afford the cost of a nuclear-armed Taliban and Al Qaeda? Obama seems willing to accept a nuclear-armed Iran, but would he accept an Islamist Pakistan?

We worry about what Israel might do if Iran is on the cusp of obtaining nuclear weapons, but what would India do if that became true of an Islamist force in Pakistan. Yes, Pakistan is already hostile to India, but it represents the old hostility that was there before the partition. The new hostility bombs women and children and is, in terms of modern civilization, insane. Will India accept an insane Pakistan? Will we?

Here is an article published today, June 20th in the Pakistan publication "Dawn": It was written by Pevez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani intellectual, who attempts to strike a positive note about Pakistan's future, but I don't believe he succeeded.

Lawrence Helm

Michael Kuznetsov has left a new comment on your post "Warfare -- Will a weak nation attack a strong one?...":


I feel satisfied and relieved with your explanation.
Evidently, I must have failed to understand you in full measure regarding the alleged "American idea to permanently attack the weak."

So, I can now say that my esteem toward the American people is restored, which fact is rather comforting for my Russian Soul:-)

I will try to continue our interesting and helpful exchange of opinions as soon as possible.



Friday, June 19, 2009

Warfare -- Will a weak nation attack a strong one?

[See Michael Kuznetsov's comments below mine]


I confess that I did offer the opinion that the Russian Winter played a role in both the defeats of Napoleon and Hitler, but I qualified that statement. I believe I said, "I won't insist on it." In fact when I think or write about those two, Napoleon and Hitler, I think of their mistakes rather than the Russian successes. Why would any general send an army into dangerous winter conditions without providing it with proper clothing?

As to the other quote of mine which you found objectionable. It is an exploration of the ideas of anthropologists Steven A. LeBlanc and R. W. Wrangham, I wouldn't say that they represent, particularly, the ideas of America or even my ideas. That never occurred to me. They are presented as representing the ideas of all humans. These and other scientists believe that they have discovered a genetic predisposition to war. To disprove the part of their theory you object to, you would have to show in history examples of weak nations attacking nations they believed were stronger. I don't think you can do that. If a nation is found in history to have attacked a stronger one; then I think you will also find that it made a terrible mistake. It miscalculated. It thought it was superior but as it turned out it wasn't.

This has been common sense for a long time and it is only new that scientists find this same behavior reflected in our nearest relative, the Chimpanzee.

Consider for example Luke 14:31-32. "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit-down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace."

Note that Jesus doesn't insist that 20,000 will always defeat 10,000. We have seen the case of Xenophon and his "Anabasis," his "uphill march." He was successful in maneuvering his army through forces that outnumbered him because his soldiers, leadership and tactics were superior to those of they encountered on their way back to Greece. Also, Xenophon didn't decide to attack superior forces initially. When the king he was fighting for as a mercenary was killed, he was forced to fight his way home.

I have read a great deal about warfare and would like to hear some examples of Russia attacking enemies it knew to be more powerful than it was. I can't think of any nation that has done that. Even Japan didn't do that when it attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 for it believed its alliance with Germany would prevail over the US in the long run.

Even in cases where an aggressor is ultimately vanquished, he probably believed at the time of his initial aggression that he would win.

And I exclude guerilla activities in this analysis, for the guerilla's do not intend to meet an enemy on a field of battle. They intend to do just as the Chimpanzees do, to sneak up and attack the enemy when it isn't expecting it, and then run away.

I also exclude nations that have been attacked by a stronger enemy and then find means to attack the enemy at night or in the early morning (Chimpanzee fashion) in hopes of getting the stronger enemy to withdraw.

Yes, weak nations often defend themselves against stronger nations, but that isn't what the anthropologists were talking about.

Lawrence Helm

Michael Kuznetsov has left a new comment on your post "Britain as Superpower":


I struggled to comprehend which country (apart from Britain) the Anonymous considered to be a second superpower, but I failed.
Indeed, mostly he sounds rather inadequate.
So, I do not feel like having a discussion with him.

I have re-read my older comments on your blog and found that, actually, I have already expressed all what I could.

From time to time I visit your blog and continue to consider it interesting.
Sometimes your materials sound funny, e.g. the childish thesis about how General Frost defeated both Napoleon and Hitler.
It's very funny ha-ha!

Some other materials sound extremely revelatory and explicitly self-exposing.
For example, I quote your words:
"So, yes we are hard-wired for war, as the anthropologists tell us, but not in a blind way. We calculate, and if the odds are against us, or if there is no advantage in moving ahead with an attack, then we refrain. We don't do it. And we see that we don't have to do it . . . [although, when attacking Iraq] The risks of retaliation were low."

For us Russians, the American idea, expressed by you, to attack only those weak who could not strike back sounds unexpectedly too much self-disgraceful.

If, some fifteen or so years ago, I had read (but I had not) such phrases anywhere in our Russian press, I would have immediately concluded it to be a dirty piece of sheer anti-American commie's propaganda.

But I do strongly believe that you personally are neither a Communist, nor an anti-American activist.
Hence, Lawrence, I feel very much amazed with your revelations.



Thursday, June 18, 2009

Protectionism and why you can't get a job

This is a very touching musical appeal for protectionism in America. This form of protest is much better than the form presently being used in Iran, however . . .

America benefits from free trade more than any other nation. We have been the great advocates of free trade and have expressed unhappiness with nations such as Japan for retaining protectionism in some form. We have been criticized for demanding that developing nations institute policies of free trade because they might develop more quickly if they could protect certain industries. But we have been adamant advocates of Free Trade; which is the opposite of Protectionism.

So what is it that all these singers want? Jobs yes, but jobs involve working for someone and that someone is in competition with competitors around the world.

In my view, “protectionism” was one of the sillier planks in Obama’s platform. Canadian officials have already complained about certain mild hints of protectionism. Protectionism will probably be quid pro quo. If we protect certain industries or businesses, how can we complain if a foreign nation engages in equivalent protectionism.

Again, America more than any other nation benefits from free trade. American companies adapt or they are swallowed up by other companies. Workers need to adapt as well.

To say “I have a strong back and a weak mind but believe in a day’s work for a day’s pay” was a commendable attitude during the 1930s depression years and later through the war years, but as we became more technologically oriented, jobs became more sophisticated. In the 50’s and 60s becoming educated would qualify you for a “white collar” job. This is even more true today.

My advice to such people as the singers would be: Protectionism isn’t going to work in this present age. Don’t count on your job being protected. Get educated. Go to college if you can afford it. If you can’t afford it, go into the military and after you get out you will be able to afford to go to college. If you are medically unqualified for the military and can’t afford college, then take some free classes. Take correspondence courses. All that looks good on a resume.

I have known engineers who had educations and jobs, but during downturns, they were laid off. They weren’t as good as some other engineers. Many industries, after all, are meritocracies. I worked in aerospace which was very much a meritocracy. I wondered why certain people had become engineers. Their hearts weren’t in that sort of work. Nevertheless they did have educations, and if they couldn’t compete with better engineers, they could do other sorts of work. Their degrees weren’t wasted. Also, they were competing for jobs at a much higher, better paying, level than the High School dropout who just doesn’t like school and is too afraid to go into the military.

If you say something like (and I have heard these statements over the years): “I am too afraid to go into the military; I don’t like school; so I wouldn’t do well in college,” I find it difficult to sympathize with you. You probably also show a lack of discipline in your life. You don’t have the discipline to study, keep in shape, etc, etc., etc. I have spoken to a number of such people and the discussions have gone nowhere. I offer constructive advice but it is rejected because they can’t, can’t, can’t. It would be better for them to say “won’t, won’t, won’t.” And if your choice is involved, then why plague the rest of us with your complaints?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Warfare -- the advantage of the Larger Population

I decided to follow-up The American Interest article by Steven LeBlanc (briefly discussed in the above), “War and Human Nature.” In 2003 LeBlanc (along with Katherine Register) wrote a book on this subject entitled Constant Battles, the Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage.

I am only 82/232 through the book and may be premature in drawing conclusions about his conclusions, but a number of questions and issues are being swirled around. To begin . . .

LeBlanc on page 73 writes, “. . . The group with the larger population always has an advantage in any competition over resources, whatever those resources may be. Over the course of human history, one side rarely has better weapons or tactics for any length of time, and most such warfare between smaller societies is attritional. With equal skills and weapons, each side would be expected to kill an equal number of its opponents. Over time, the larger group will finally overwhelm the smaller one. This advantage of size is well recognized by humans all over the world, and they go to great lengths to keep their numbers compatible to their potential enemies. This is observed anthropologically by the universal desire to have many allies, and the common tactic of smaller groups inviting other societies to join them, even in times of food stress.”

Let us first consider Russia. Without digging out the population statistics, even if such exist, I assume the population of France was during the time of Napoleon comparable to that of Russia. Napoleon was confident that his army would be victorious and had it not been for Russian weather, and the Russian strategy (if strategy it was) to withdraw until an enemy’s supply lines were over extended, Napoleon and his French army would have been successful.

And when Hitler invaded Russia, were not the two populations comparable? In reading about the German-Russian conflict, it seemed to me that the German and Russian armies were very comparable. They had similar leadership failures, similar technology and similar soldier-competence. Germany probably (although I won’t insist on it) would have won against Russia if it had fought just Russia, but it was too ambitious.

In any case Russia and Germany fit the LeBlanc scenario to some extent. If one looks at their populations today, Russia is about 140,000,000 and Germany about 80,000,000. LeBlanc discusses warfare as population control. Germany did have an increase in population after World War One, much greater than its nearest European rival, France. And since France had violated a principle (sort of) that we understand from LeBlanc, that is that France took as victor’s spoils a large share of Germany’s resources after World War One, it was in effect inviting a future attack.

Again, had Germany restricted its ambitions to France, or even Western Europe, it probably would have been successful, but it didn’t.

Time passes and we have a seemingly pacifistic collection of allies called the European Union. Germany is part of that collection. The EU came into existence to some extent as a result of the Cold War. The EU and NATO were created as a bulwark against the USSR. It was the US that provided the fighting spirit that opposed the USSR; which allowed the EU planners to assume they had abolished war and created a paradise on earth. Maybe the primitive tribes LeBlanc discusses thought similar things. An enemy was defeated, large numbers of men and children killed, and the victors returned home with the captured women and with the confidence that warfare would no longer be required because there was no one left to fight. If we ignore Europe’s pietistic assessment of their current achievement, we have something comparable to what LeBlanc described. A “tribe” with no neighbors capable of taking their “resources.” But is that quite true?

There is such a “tribe” as LeBlanc describes: a growing population with inadequate resources and in their view, possessing a collection of weak neighbors. That tribe is of course the North African Islamic. Does the weak neighbor (the EU) need to be conquered physically? Not necessarily. We see that the Islamic influx is occurring relatively peacefully. For reasons the Islamic may not care too terribly much about, the European is inviting the enemy tribe into its bosom. There isn’t even a demand for loyalty. The Islamic is permitted to retain all of his hostility and his desire to conquer.

Of course it is still early days in Europe and if there are intellectual Islamics who theorize about a possible future victory, the average Muslim probably doesn’t care – no more than the average primitive cared about philosophy. He wanted his basic stuff and if he didn’t get it he was unhappy. If the “enemy” had stuff that he wanted, and the enemy was weak, then he felt inclined to take it. The European “enemy” is weak. His “stuff,” that is, his resources including his land, is made available to the Islamic.

If that essentially primitive scenario is allowed to play itself out then Europe will one day belong to a new tribe, a tribe that speaks Arabic rather than the Babel of European languages that exist there now.

Okay, let’s turn back to Russia. They are in a similar situation. Their history inclines them toward having “buffer” states to protect them from the traditional “enemy,” the European. It is true that this enemy is in terms of military aggressiveness quiescent and in no need of Russia’s resources except for its petroleum products which Russia is quite willing to sell him, but history is a powerful lesson; so Russia is by no means inclined to divest itself of its buffer states. And several of them, both inside and outside of the Russian Federation, are largely Islamic. So Russia has invited the enemy into its national bosom, much as the EU has.

Islamic philosophers are sure to see the hand of Allah at work here, causing the enemy Europeans and Russians to accept silly philosophies which give the Islamic an advantage.

To return to the LeBlanc scenario, it isn’t very interesting to compare the German population of 80 million with the Russian population of 140 million. It is more interesting to ask how many of the 80 and 140 million are Islamic?

We have discussed immigration implications before. The US has no real ethnic identity and accepts immigrants whole-heartedly, asking only that they assimilate. Russians and Europeans do have ethnic identities and are not willing, by and large, to accept the assimilation of Islamic minorities. In the cases of Russia and Europe, Islamics are encouraged to retain their own identities, prejudices and beliefs; which fit neatly into the philosophy of the Islamist Sayyid Qutb. Of course these poorly integrated Muslims in Europe and Russia are not dedicated jihadists . . . yet. But they are, many of them, unhappy, and their unhappiness is fertile ground for the work of Islamist agitators.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

War and Human Nature -- especially American

The July/August 2009 issue of “The American Interest” has three articles on war. The only one available on line is the above, “Blood Brothers,” was written by Stephen Peter Rosen.

Initially I thought the second article, “War and Human Nature” by Steven A. LeBlanc would be more interesting, and read it first. Yes we are hard wired for war, but not in a deterministic sense. We fight wars just as our primitive forebears did and just as our nearest relative, the Chimpanzee still does, but we do it in a calculating way. Chimpanzees will gang up on a single enemy, but if a large number of enemies show up, they will run away. In the primitive human societies anthropologists have studied, something similar occurs. A tribe might wait until it is sure all the enemies are asleep and then rush down to attack. Ambush and sneak attack were the favored methods of warfare in hunter-gatherer societies.

We still calculate in the manner of the Chimpanzee. We had all sorts of reasons for attacking Saddam Hussein, for example, but we weren’t going to let these “reasons” overcome our calculations. We believed we had the advantage. We were more sophisticated than the primitive tribesmen in South Australia that the Australian William Buckley wrote about in the early 1800s, but we were doing the same thing. We didn’t rush into war blindly. We believed we had an advantage and could win. We calculated the odds before going ahead.

So, yes we are hard-wired for war, as the anthropologists tell us, but not in a blind way. We calculate, and if the odds are against us, or if there is no advantage in moving ahead with an attack, then we refrain. We don’t do it. And we see that we don’t have to do it. War didn’t occur between the USSR & the US during the Cold War because both sides saw that the chance of devastating retaliation was unacceptably high. The chance of such a retaliation from Saddam’s Iraq was much lower. We suspected him of having chemical and biological weapons. After all he used them in a war against Iran. Also, we knew he was pursuing nuclear weapons. The Israeli’s destroyed an earlier nuclear-development site. We knew he wanted nuclear weapons (even while believing intelligence reports that he may already have them); so it seemed prudent to nip his ambitions in the bud. The risks of retaliation were low.

But there were political risks that were not fully taken into consideration, and for that we can turn to the Rosen’s article, “Blood Brothers.” He has read Walter Russell Mead’s Special Providence, but instead of seeing four elements influencing foreign policy, he sees two. There is the Scots-Irish tradition which is among the most warlike in the world. They fought the British from Scotland, and when they were shipped off to Northern Ireland they fought the Irish. When they were harassed again by the British a great number of them became settlers in the New World. They were the most numerous group to settle in North America. Many of us can trace ancestors back to this Scots-Irish influx. I know I can. Call for a war and the Scots-Irish will be first in line at the recruiting office.

Interestingly, as Mead tells us and Rosen repeats, it is no longer just the ethnic Scots-Irish who hold this war-like view. The Scots-Irish were the initial settlers, but immigrants from other ethnicities came to America (or were brought here as slaves) and learned to accept the Scots-Irish tradition. Rosen writes, “The musings of Lyndon Johnson to Richard Russell as he considered what to do in the Vietnam War after American soldiers had been killed by Viet Cong clearly reflected the values of the Scots-Irish society he grew up in. LBJ said that he had to fight in Vietnam; that one of his Texas neighbors had told him the American people would forgive anything in a President but weakness.”

But Rosen’s second tradition is the Puritan. The Puritans were just as willing to fight as the Scots-Irish, but they were of a Calvinistic, legalistic tradition. A war needed to be properly authorized and approved by law before the Puritans would be happy to fight. In regard to the Vietnam War, Rosen writes, the Puritan culture “insisted on legal authorization of violence; hence the efforts of the U.S. government to portray the Vietnam war as a valid response to the violation of the17th parallel, a recognized international border legally mandated by U.S. treaty commitments, and as consistent with a general international consensus embodied in allied military support. All this reflected the need to speak to the Puritan culture. Those appeals were never compelling, however, and did not command the respect of support of that culture, which turned against the war in a way Scots-Irish culture never did.”


This note is a continuation of the discussion that began with David Fromkin’s The Independence of Nations. Fromkin accepted the idea in 1981, an idea that is even more firmly established in 2009, that we are a species hard-wired for war. Pacifism and wishful thinking won’t change that. Politically-Correct theories about war being “stupid” or “foolish” have been largely abandoned. Few today seem to be writing books like Alistair Horne’s (1962) The Price of Glory, Verdun 1916, an “appalling story, marvelously told . . . the unnecessary battle in an unnecessary war” as we are told on the back of the 1993 paperback edition of Horne’s book. To call war “an appalling story,” or “unnecessary” seems naïve in 2009.

But if telling us that war is “human folly” or “unnecessary,” won’t do it, what will? Fromkin in 1981 thought another “balance of power” situation like we had in the 19th century – or even the one we had through the Cold War might give us time to come up with a better solution. He recommends putting distance between ourselves by colonizing other parts of the solar system and then moving out to other star systems.

LeBlanc rather vaguely hopes that the calculating part of our hard-wiring might cause us to decide that war is no longer advantageous. The Chimpanzees ran away from a larger group of Chimpanzees. Maybe war will eventually seem like a larger group of Chimpanzees even to the most powerful nation. We seem to be in that mode at present. Obama won the presidency, to some extent, as a result of this belief. We were too aggressive under Bush 43; so now we are trying to be more humble, more proper, more law-abiding under Obama. For Obama and his followers, the disapproval of the rest of the world was the “larger group of Chimpanzees.” Will Obama’s viewpoint become the accepted policy of the next president? Or will the next one decide that as long as Chimpanzees do nothing more than jump up and down and holler, they can’t really hurt us?

The third article is entitled “Vacuum Wars, The Coming Competition over Failed States,” and written by Jakub Grygiel. I complement The American Interest on this very interesting trilogy of articles. I might have been tempted to reorder them and put “War and Human Nature” first, but Rosen doesn’t seem to quite accept LeBlanc’s emphasis. He doesn’t speak of all humans being hard-wired for war. He speaks of Americans being influenced and equipped for war through their Puritan and Scots-Irish Traditions. After reading both articles I can see that Rosen isn’t in conflict with LeBlanc. He is merely getting into the detail of how American hard-wiring has played out in history. Some chimpanzees are better warriors than others. Rosen may be saying that Americans, made up as we are of Scots-Irish and Puritans, are extremely competent warriors.

The LeBlanc/Rosen views are not completely melded, however. Rosen felt a need to disagree with Tocqueville. We may think of ourselves as isolationist and unwarlike, but our actions say otherwise. Rosen seems to single the US out as distinctive. LeBlanc would say this is the nature of all men. However they think of themselves, they are all hard-wired for war. The US is not distinctive in that regard. The US has a respectable war-like tradition, but so does Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain, Vietnam, and China (among others). Advantages over those nations have more to do with technology than with warlike mentality.

Patriotic discussions of American warlike capability remind me of the discussions I’ve had of Rhodesian Ridgeback protectiveness. Yes, they were once a fierce breed and used by Cornelius Van Rooyan to hunt African Lions. But over the years breeders have softened them and used them for other purposes. They have become thoroughly domesticated and don’t “seem” at all capable of hunting African Lions any longer. But could they if called upon to do so? More importantly, could they perform another other their early capabilities, that of being excellent guards? The Ridgeback patriots argue that they could. If the need arose then they would come to their owner’s defense. Well, maybe. But they haven’t had to prove that capability in many years. They seem much like many other similar breeds today.

In the early 20th century, South Africans swore by the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and called it the “Lion Dog.” It was believed to fight dangerous game better, guard the farms better, and be more protective than any other breed in Africa. As I read those early stories I can believe it. But then I look over on the floor beside my desk and see my two sleeping Ridgeback girls. They are thoroughly domesticated. They have been a bit protective on a few occasions, but I doubt that they exhibit more of that characteristic than other breeds such as the Rottweiler or the Giant Schnauzer. And their prey drive isn’t entirely gone. They love to chase rabbits, and last night they were both desperate to chase a mouse we encountered on our walk.

One can see that I have moved from LeBlanc’s “All men are hard-wired for war” to Rosen’s suggestion that Americans may have better war-hard-wiring than other traditions. That we are hard-wired for war seems demonstrable, both in history and in the present day. That the US is better at it than other nations is more debatable. In the meantime, there are all those failed-nation vacuums out there as hazards for us. We are sure to fight wars over some of them. Will there be time enough to get to Mars and the Moons of Jupiter before we get into a really bad war? Let us hope so.