Neo-Imperialism

2013November11-30

The absolute sentence on the Islamic Republic, like the indictment of the West from within Iran, is based on and designed to justify and reinforce mutual hostility and exclusion. In effect the enemy image is circular and self-validating, hermetically self-sealing. To accept it and at the same time to favor meaningful negotiations would be paradoxical, a seeking of common ground under the presumption of its absence. We have already examined the alternative perspective, which offers no guarantees, but points to the absurdity, or the pathology, of an approach that always ends and must end where it also always begins, at “the worst very much still before us,” re-producing itself perpetually until signifier becomes indistinguishable from signified. If neither the Islamic Republic nor America nor the West nor the alliance of Maccabees and Pilgrims is susceptible to evolution at all, if they are (if there can be) eternally static and unitary entities, perfectly and imperviously self-sufficient, then there is nothing to analyze or discuss – or negotiate – at all, and what is presented as if analytical will amount to the extended recapitulation of non-negotiable and inalterable premises, from the worst to the worst, over and over again, til Kingdom come.

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December12-14
12-29
2014January01-11
01-21

In ignoring the geographic, political-economic, ethnic, religious impediments to the universalization of the human idea, Americans repeat those ineluctably pleasing, necessary operations of the spirit that tell us our luck - or the sum of our combined advantages in relation to geography, politics, economics, ethnicities, and religions - is deserved, a product of our virtues and a proof of them, whatever costs to others not only unavoidable, but just.

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February02-12
March03-03
03-06

(Text version follows)


< !DOCTYPE html>An American Conservative Declinism

An American Conservative Declinism

Another foreign policy dialogue

  1. We begin where Tim Kowal, a politically active California attorney and blogger, quotes a familiarly excessive and derogatory attack on the President.
  2. On Russia, "He’s out of his depth....not just...uninformed; it’s that he hasn’t figured out how to fake it." Who?  http://pocket.co/sg4NS 
  3. The quote concerns a sidebar, or sidebar to sidebars, on the Crimea crisis, the notion that events prove former presidential nominee Mitt Romney right to have designated Russia as America's "number one geopolitical foe" in remarks for which he was harshly criticized by President Obama and supporters. I am more interested, however, in the assumptions underlying this argument:
  4. @timkowal so do you, unlike the writer of that article and everyone else, have a firm idea of the "threat" posed to us by our "foe"?
  5. @timkowal It's an honest question. What bad things are we supposed to be worrying about as our "foe" advances?
  6. Kowal begins with a recitation of familiar abstractions or premises in summary form...
  7. @CK_MacLeod Bad actor, didn't feel checked, took over Crimea--noncatastrophic but preventable act, perhaps more to follow for same reasons.
  8. @timkowal I don't buy that analysis, but, even if I did, it's doesn't come close to isolating a harm to the U.S. - not much of a foe
  9. One thing that separates Kowal from many on all sides of political discussion is his willingness to make a reasonable concession - or stipulation:
  10. @CK_MacLeod But "firm idea"? No. Prob no one does/can, but certainly not me. I, admittedly, do not know how to fake it.
  11. @timkowal politically that's a major problem for the right... the most it achieves is to put down a marker for the future... possibly
  12. I am suggesting here that, if interventionists (in effect, the contemporary American "right" minus isolationists) cannot explain to us what specifically we lose or risk as a result of our supposed failures, they give up any chance of being persuasive now, and at best reinforce their status with a view to some future epoch of renewed popular sensitivity to foreign dangers and renewed willingness to act.
  13. @CK_MacLeod Time-horizons. No, don't have a serious foe now. But 21st will be last American century. Q is positioning in the long decline.
  14. Kowal here adopts as his own position one frequently attributed to the President and his party by Kowal's usual allies, who will assert that a "managed decline" policy amounts to self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of a weak if not treasonous president.
  15. @timkowal if the authentic American idea could never be a "national" possession, a last "American century" might be valid American goal
  16. Here I am referring in general terms to original American revolutionism, an ideology of renovation and re-ordering of the world via a republican, in more modern terms liberal-democratic, idea. From this perspective, the general acceptance of liberal democracy, as effectively the final historical form of just governance, would represent a human and global triumph, not merely or specifically, and certainly not exclusively, a triumph for and by the United States of America or for the inhabitants of North America or an American nation. As citizens of a "state-nation" rather than subjects of a "nation state," proponents of an egalitarian and "federative" concept (Jefferson) rather than of a particular ethno-national or monarchical, aristocratic, theocratic, Old World, racial, etc., destiny, Americans advance ideal or messianic Americanism as and on behalf of world citizens, on behalf finally of the human species in its entirety, just as the American state gathers and amalgamates all peoples of the world.
  17. @timkowal only way you and yours would ever have the human scale non-state state you sometimes mostly want
  18. In other words, a "last American century" would allow for a return to the American constitutional ideal, contingent on a final triumph not by one American nation over all of the others, but by a triumph of the republican concept itself over the national concept.

    Put abstractly, the idea of course sounds utopian if not apocalyptic, but world history as such is already an articulation of absolutes: To discuss world history is to discuss the fate of the world, and the fate of the world is the articulation of collective and eternal destiny, eventually a religious or absolute moral subject.

  19. @CK_MacLeod Not a "goal" either way. US power simply is; decline not good/bad in principle, but have to manage disruptions & power vacuums.
  20. Here Kowal diverges substantially from the views of many neoconservatives and other proponents of American material power as a good in itself that not only must but should continually expand, bringing freedom to ever more people, for their sake as well as for ours. (The widely misunderstood "end of history" paradigm, as global triumph of the "new order of the ages," means simply that it will always be easier to sneer at the W-Bushian formulation, offered in terms of a divine gift, than to construct a clear, coherent, consistent, and morally acceptable alternative; that effectively no one will sustain an argument against it except by recapitulation of its basic premises.)
  21. @timkowal mmm. you and I may not be that far apart, but I'm not sure that Americanism survives without goals, missions of some kind
  22. @timkowal no reason inherently it *can't* someday be perceived (again) as a spiritual or moral mission, but inherently fraught operation
  23. An American sense of mission is a simultaneously wholly pragmatic and wholly ideal mission - of the final indistinction of pragmatism and idealism, as of the final and primordial equality (as indistinction of class and national differences) of human beings as human beings (all "men" self-evidently created equal).
  24. @timkowal and just to tie it off, I think the disorienting goallessness of this moment is *part* of the arguable overreaction to this foe
  25. The hawks who can neither explain the costs of inaction nor calculate the risks of intervention find themselves in a world seemingly devoid of comprehensible meanings or accessible and familiar modes of meaning production: However, unlike those who revert to, in short, crypto-fascistic or reactionarily nationalistic alternatives - American policy under one another set of warrior and tribal principles, a "declinism" of moral concept - Kowal turns to a more rational basis for policy:
  26. @CK_MacLeod Qualifier re principle: Since US is on balance a world good, then if evil powers not also declining, US decline is bad.
  27. @CK_MacLeod So our mission should be to ensure our decline is slower than that of evil regimes.
  28. So, the relative decline of the American state-nation might be tolerable from the perspective of the universal liberal-democratic ideal if that decline does not result in a critical relative empowerment of "evil" regimes. From this perspective, "evil" regimes would be those regimes whose triumph would equate with foreclosure of the liberal-democratic possibility.
  29. @timkowal that's an interesting way of putting it. A good starting point since very rational and understandable.
  30. @timkowal I would call it appealingly simple, except people would presume that I meant that as an insult, when I don't or wouldn't.
  31. @timkowal however, I think it does suffer only from being put simply negatively or pessimistically
  32. I'm returning here to the "last American century" premise and the idea of a moral or religious mission alongside and in some way overriding any simply material or economic one. Kowal is, after all, imagining Americans, over generations one presumes, somehow accustoming themselves to an experience or at least the appearance of national-political decline, a process presenting unique difficulties and dangers, and continual opportunities for demagogy, not least from among Kowal's usual political allies - as in the article that Kowal tweeted at the beginning of these exchanges.
  33. @CK_MacLeod “There are simple solutions - just not easy ones.”
  34. @timkowal an unusual deployment of that phrase, I'd say. Reagan and fatalism don't usually go well together.
  35. @CK_MacLeod Not sure of a positive spin. But lots of action flick lines transmit same idea, eg, "if I go down, you're coming with me."
  36. "Action flick lines" obviously suggests an appeal to classically masculine concepts of warrior virtue, here in a sacrificial mode. The positive "spin" that has worked in the past takes a form that Kowal is, I believe, somewhat committed to oppose: Wilsonian and Rooseveltian liberal internationalism, even as sustained during the Cold War under Republican presidents.The problem in the "Age of Obama" may be adaptation of liberal internationalism, which was developed as an official narrative for history's greatest global power on the rise, then elaborated over a long period of neo-imperial consolidation, to the circumstances of seemingly inevitable relative material decline at the state-national center.

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03-08
03-16

(proofread version of comment at Crooked Timber)

Mr. Timberman @125 [Italics in original comment], “converting freedom into political [or any kind of] obligation” appears to translate as “converting freedom into its opposite.” If I’m obligated to you and yours at all – to put on a uniform and take up arms if war is declared and I’m summoned to serve, or even just to pay taxes or buy health insurance – then I am obviously in that way or to that extent less ideally free. Maybe you were already observing the contradiction with your italics.

I’m not preparing to argue against such compromises of ideal freedom in the manner of a Tea Partier. Nor am I about to  attempt a comment thread essay on the “mixed regime” and mass polities, a discussion whose terms I trust will be familiar to many or most of you. I’m simply emphasizing that the contradiction arises not just in columns by big-name moderate-conservative pundits, or in books by political theorists who were implicated in crimes against humanity, or every day on Fox News, but at the highest level of “metaphysical” abstraction, or at the very conceptual as well as historical origins of modern liberalism. I was trying to suggest as much in my “incomprehensible” remarks above, and the excellent comment by JCH, to which you link, puts the argument much more clearly.

We are history’s great experts at negotiation of this contradiction, but the point of relevance to the discussion of Brooks and Schmitt, and the argument that must be admitted at some point on their behalf, is that both are arguing against forms of ideological liberalism that do not acknowledge or only very grudgingly acknowledge the existence of any significant theoretical problem at all, resulting in a discourse – as well as in policy, rhetoric, and popular expectations – that in their view is not just unrealistic, but tragically detached from reality, leaving their “friends” perhaps dangerously unprepared for whatever next inevitable conversion of the (thought to be) free into the un-free.

This necessity is, as said, realism for the statist conservative: a rule of “reality.” In the real world, they believe, there really are decisively illiberal enemies of liberalism who are both prepared and capable of forcing it to convert itself into its opposite. One such familiar form of resultant self-alienation was alluded to in a comment above, on liberal ideology as a “cloak” for “the same old grosse politik,” but such hypocrisy would be merely one common form – actual hypocrisy – of the more general problem addressed by Schmitt and perhaps, if obviously less incisively and coherently, by Brooks. On this basis arises one of the great ironies, rehearsed on this thread, of brown-baiting Schmitt in reference to his writings in the ’20s, since they were composed well before his abortive join-’em phase, when he was in fact arguing for beat-’em: employ the highly illiberal measures included in the very liberal Weimar constitution on behalf of the liberal or mostly liberal or liberalist order against the “negative” parties including the extreme right. He happened to be saying, at that moment, and I think with some clear if heavily qualified sympathy for liberalist aspirations, “Guys, this is what you always do, always have done, and must and will sooner or later do, if you want to survive at all, and survival doesn’t mean, because it’s never meant, preserve a perfectly orderly and lawful regime of peace and freedom: It means preserve some type of self-contradictory or hybrid mess sustained by an order that, in addition to maintaining some space for your ideals, also maintains some space for my different ones.” It is, in short, a Hobbesian argument, but modified for modern mass society under pressure.

Both in the comments originally cited and all the more in the extensive further excerpts that Professor Robin supplies, Brooks is making a parallel Leviathan argument: We’re going to or ought to sacrifice some ideal liberalism-individualism for the sake of some reinforced nationalism-patriotism-statism (which latter configuration always includes and, according to Schmitt among many others – Arendt quite famously – rests on the potential for organized mass violence). He says, “You may not like the medicine, but it will be good for us for a number of reasons, and it will be necessary and some version of it simply will be taken, whether or not you’re ready to call it good.” Viewed in historical context, he goes on to say, the resort to illiberal measures won’t be in the least unusual, and there neither is nor ever has been any real alternative. The form of this argument also explains why Brooks is treated with such grave mistrust from the “constitutional conservative” and libertarian right.

I believe that Schmitt’s thought, on its own and “in translation,” became relevant again for one main and perhaps too obvious reason: Not because the state of the USA 1990-2014 greatly resembles the state of the Weimar Republic at any point, and not simply because the War on Terror saw an escalation in illiberal or “legal-exceptional” policy supposedly on behalf of Western liberal commitments, but because the collapse of Communism finally posed or allowed for the posing of the question of the American-led international liberal-humanitarian order unambiguously. Schmitt was perhaps the most penetrating political thinker from the other side during the last great crisis of liberal democracy in its Eurocentric form, prior to the ascension of the Americanized global successor. (Schmitt in his post-Nazi writings analyzes this historical process in careful detail, incidentally – in many ways it’s even more “timely” reading.) He provides a set of apparent answers that we have determined we must oppose, but which we, or often the people we have claimed we wanted to help, end up adopting or modifying to suit exigencies that always, one way or another, seem to arise.

While treating Brooks as Schmitt’s translator, Robin makes a version of the same charge against Brooks that Leo Strauss made in 1932 against Schmitt – the same charge frequently made against Strauss, and a charge that Robin himself often seems to be on guard against: of overly identifying with his subject, of admiring that which he pretends to detest and according to his own argument at other points ought to detest. (Obviously, unlike Schmitt and Strauss and Brooks, Robin has thusfar kept himself off the left-liberal proscription lists.) As for Robin’s specific claim, I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Brooks’ stance is anticipated in Schmitt. On the other hand, so are a lot of other people’s, including, as we have seen right here on this thread, the stances of many of Schmitt’s self-styled enemies. The related but to me, and clearly to Strauss, more interesting question is whether Schmitt’s crypto-fascism (not a term used by Strauss, but I think clearly implied) and its intermediate enemy, ideological liberalism, define a shared horizon that we are in any way usefully able to think beyond without falling off the edge of the world.

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April04-13

A piece of political concept art may not be God's frustration of Mephistopheles - the evil one condemned to achieve good despite himself - but neither is it exactly entirely not-that.

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04-14

If Larison does not acknowledge or if we do not have a vital or overriding interest in supporting Israel, then neither Larison should find nor do we have any vital or overriding interest in criticizing Israel either.

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04-23

The strategic vs a-strategic opposition derives from “The US Needs to Re-Discover the Concept of Strategy,” a post by "seydlitz89," though the figure "a/strategy" does - obviously, possibly somewhat serendipitously, possibly according to some inner necessity - happen to fit within my own recently heightened focus on such figures - a/theism, un/reason, and so on. I may return at some point to the post, which I found more interesting than my necessarily brief, summary comments may suggest: I don't have the time to be more dialectical, less oppositional.

For now, I'll just record and briefly annotate my two comments at zenpundit.com, where seydlitz89's post was reviewed. My first brief comment follows below - the quoted and bolded words are from seydlitz89's description of "a-strategic" action:

I’d like to see an example of a successful US embrace of strategy that was both effective and notorganized violence linked with ideological assumptions regarding the market system as well as US exceptionalism.” My strong suspicion is that in each major instance or in each instance carefully defined, the two notions of “strategy” and “a-strategic action” (or spontaneity) will tend to converge.

seydlitz89 referred in a reply comment to “two examples” in his post, though I disagree that they clearly support his thinking, or that either was not meaningfully "linked" to the specified "ideological assumptions." Comment #2:

The “two examples” would appear to be the Cold War and the First Gulf War.

These are, to say the least, very unlike “wars.” The latter more conventionally war-like war can even be seen as an aftershock of the resolution of the first, which was a much broader historical event that was very much not a war like the wars of the directly preceding era going back at least to Clausewitz: As much a global-historical developmental process as a “war,” beyond the Clausewitizian horizon, largely defined and sustained precisely by a clash of “ideological assumptions,” especially ones regarding the “market system” and US exceptionalism or exceptionality properly understood.

The Cold War did also entail a rather substantial amount of organized violence on both sides, along with somewhat credible threats to destroy civilization or perhaps the world as we knew it, but it remains questionable whether what really “won” that “war” would qualify as more strategic or “a-strategic” under the definitions advanced. Perhaps it was either both at once or an illustration of the untenability of the opposition in relation to the United States in particular – which is what I meant to indicate by proposing a very exceptional convergence, producing a quandary for would-be strategists of all types, who would naturally see the insusceptibility of the US predicament in different epochs to inappropriate strategic concepts as a collapse.

As for the First Gulf War, the name already points to the problems defining it as a “success.” It was in many ways a predicate for the “collapse” of the ’00s: The declared victory contributed to hubris about the indomitability of American arms and the competence of American leadership, reinforcing and being reinforced by Cold War triumphalism and the notion of a unipolar world or New World Order. At the same time, the actual ambiguities of the result included an unresolved and de-stabilizing as well as morally-politically unsupportable situation, requiring continual military involvement and intermittent relatively minor interventions, providing among other things a non-incidental pretext for the 9/11 attacks, and an obvious if deceptive strategic problem for anyone intending to prosecute a “war on terror” to solve – in the form of a sequel to an in multiple senses unfinished war.

Of course, you can have a strategy to remain the only superpower on Earth. The question is whether pursuit of that strategy or defensive maintenance of such a successfully implemented and indeed difficult to frustrate grand strategy, a kind of privilege/responsibility ["burden" might have been better] of the world-historical power, yields useful lesser or lower level strategic concepts.

The last paragraph refers to a claim - the superpower-strategy claim - from seydlitz89's post, quoted by zenpundit (Mark Safranski), and also noted by another commenter. Needless to say, at least for regular readers of this blog, I've gone over this territory many times before, but I hope at some point to be able to work out the logic further, in a longer more "synthetic" post on strategy that I never have gotten around to finishing and publishing.

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May05-01

This is the problem with Crook's brand of High Broderist faux-moderation. Crook says he supports some kind of carbon tax and public funding for research and mitigation, but he quite obviously hasn't given the slightest thought as to whether that policy would be enough to achieve his climate goals, or even what those goals are. Instead, he just implicitly assumes that the best solution is one that doesn't disrupt the status quo very much.

* * *

Political moderation on climate change is many things, but perhaps the most important one is that, as we've seen, it is incredibly risky. Such a position is, in effect, courting tremendous damage to human civilization to avoid admitting that the greens might be right about something. ((Ryan Cooper, "Will the vanity of centrists doom us to climate disaster?"))

As for differences between right and left today, the claim that "both sides do it" only qualifies as "Broderism" if you have already determined that one version of the politically correct actually is correct in connection with specific circumstances or issues. Having concluded that climate change theory is correct, that the problem is of paramount importance, and that solving the problem requires the assent of non-scientists, we seem to have no choice but to insist on an ideologically correct line, or coercive enforcement of its dictates, rather than an impossible or at least unlikely process of turning every influential individual or masses of voters into climate scientists. If the political left or green left has the only possible solution to the paramount problem, ((That appears to be the position of those to Chris Hayes' and perhaps even Ryan Cooper's left: See, e.g., "A Second Civil War," and "Toward Cyborg Socialism" both at Jacobin Magazine.)) then the fact that the left might also be susceptible or even more susceptible to the substitution of ideological discipline for thought or open inquiry would be either secondary or even potentially a plus. Both sides may "do it," but even being the only side that "did it" would be decisive only if "doing it" impaired achievement of the paramount and indispensable aim. The last is, however, very possible in a liberal democratic political culture, or, put differently, liberal democracy with its moderating or compromising tendencies becomes itself a principal impediment to achievement of the paramount and indispensable aim.

The resulting problem can be put abstractly, or under maximal heightening of respective positions, as follows: If the only way to avert climate change catastrophe is, eventually, the immoderate or total state, then the question would be whether the total state without climate change catastrophe would be better than the moderate or liberal democratic state with climate change catastrophe.

It goes without saying that proponents of climate change prevention will insist that their goal can be achieved without the total state, or with measures beneficial to human beings for other reasons, but we already know that most of them are ideologically predisposed to believe nothing else, and we also know that their adversaries are ideologically predisposed to be more sensitive to infringements on negative freedoms - to see the advent of the total state in measures that the liberal-left is ideologically predisposed to see as simply reasonable. Advancement of the immoderate state always carries the risk of movement toward the tyrannical or autocratic state, which, under conditions of war or catastrophe tends toward the total state. The alignment of power and of (divergent) principle against not merely moderate or radical measures raises the further question of whether the total state would be required to quash opposition to them, as well as whether  the necessary measures already constitute the advent of the total state. Outside of an unprecedented consensus among all or most people, bringing about the total state and operation of the total state both require a willingness to apply coercive force.

The climate change movement would therefore have to prove to the satisfaction of those not already strongly predisposed in its favor that climate change catastrophe would be worse than 1) civil war played out on a global scale, and 2) conditions tending toward or embodying the total state, and, furthermore, it must prove that the civil war could be won and the necessary measures implemented successfully (also taking into account possible direct negative effects of the war itself on achievement of the paramount goal). Proving that a global civil war can be won and that a global state or system of states enforcing ideological discipline and controlling economic activity can be put in place and maintained is more difficult than proving that climate change is occurring and is a significant threat. If projections of climate change catastrophe are accurate, then we should assume that climate change catastrophe will occur, or will have to occur at least to the extent that it establishes itself as a greater evil in the minds of vast numbers of people and of a sufficient number of powerful people. It can be established as such a greater evil in two ways, by the direct impact of climate change catastrophe on people, and by the actions of those and other people, for instance if they are motivated to perform escalating acts of political violence and economic sabotage. Either, but especially both, imply further substantial deterioration of circumstances of life prior to adoption of significantly more meaningful measures.

We should also expect that any such change in opinion on the main question would be accompanied by numerous initiatives about whose efficacy and wisdom there will be great additional divergence of opinion. Geoengineering and enhanced carbon capture or mitigation schemes will continue to be proposed, and it will be difficult to convince non-specialists that an investment in them would not be worthwhile. Even at a very low likelihood of success, the rewards - averting the total state or preserving liberal democratic freedom, averting war, and averting or mitigating climate change catastrophe - would justify a very high investment. Achieving successful geoengineering or other technological rescue might finally also require or produce the total state, but, even then, it might do so under much more favorable circumstances for its eventual unwinding or moderation. At the same time, especially if geoengineering or other technological fixes prove inadequate, again presuming that the forecast of climate change catastrophe is correct and that powerful forces are aligned against necessary measures, we should presume that at least some movement in the direction of global civil war and the total state will also occur.

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June06-19
July07-17
07-21

israel-location-mapFred Kaplan's critique of Israeli strategy or supposed strategic failures seems to be what Middle East scholar Michael Hanna has in mind when he urges us (on Twitter today) to consider an alternative view:

Let's be frank: we often talk [about] Israel's lack of rational, strategic planning, but this assumes they want to end the occupation.They don't.

As we have frequently discussed, this type of counter-critique applies to much discussion of supposed U.S. strategic failures, since that discussion is likewise often based on common but superficial assumptions about what a national strategy is, has been, or can be, in place of direct observation of an unfolding, largely unchanging strategic concept. Though the term "occupation" may be reductive or misleading, Hanna points to a way to makes sense of conduct by Israel or Israel's leaders that Kaplan calls "crazy."

We want to believe, as it is largely acceptable to believe, that Israel's objectives are primarily "peace" with the Palestinian Arabs, or, as we prefer to say, with "the Palestinians." The latter term, in conjunction with still-reigning Wilsonian notions of ethno-national self-determination, already implies a two-state or at least bi-national solution to the conflict. Yet even the advocates of an early resumption of two-state negotiations do not believe in, or perfunctorily dismiss, their prospects. Thus Kaplan when he turns from critique to proposals (emphasis added):

Exhausted as Kerry must be in his travels, and belabored as Obama must feel in his entire relationship with Netanyahu (and much else going on in the world), both need to immerse themselves in this crisis, work with Egypt to impose or cajole a cease-fire, then get Israel to realize its momentary strategic advantage and the need to seize the moment before it passes. That has to involve renewed negotiations for a two-state solution (even if the talks go nowhere), coupled with a freeze on settlements (in part to show good faith, in part because it’s the right thing to do), and a lavish program of aid and investment in the West Bank (to make it a showcase for Gazans seeking an alternative to their rulers who want only war).

Even for the advocate of negotiations, they are for show, one supposes for the purpose of diverting a sufficient mass of observers among the Palestinians and their supporters.

What makes the "crisis" a pseudo-crisis, less and other than a true crisis, is its character as reinforcement of a pre-existing tendency rather than as forced emergence of any new one: It is stasis, situation normal..., not crisis. Between two mutually exclusive national ideas tied to the same territory, the Zionist idea is by every material measure more advanced and, almost 70 years post-founding, more firmly rooted, even if at the margins the prospect of boycotts and deteriorating relations conjures at least the image of erosion. Meanwhile, the only state project objectively on offer for the Palestinians promises far less than the equality implicit in the simple "2-state" abstraction: Prime Minister Netanyahu's recent controversial statements on maintenance of "security control" of the West Bank merely underlined the longstanding position of the only governing coalitions the Israeli polity ever actually produces and probably can produce: of one fully sovereign, independently viable nation-state for the Jews, and of something else for the Palestinian Arabs.

Since our own nation-state concepts are so variegated, always mythological or fictitious in key respects, matters of faith not of scientific quantification, many of us find it easy to believe that the Palestinians might accept that lesser or fractional quasi-sovereign quasi-state, that x<1 state, as state enough for government work. Or call it a "neo-state," to be defined optimistically, some would say fantastically, as a polity in transition, looking to an era of the obsolescence and final moral repudiation of the nation-state under an emerging global regime of equal justice. In the meantime, and either to this end or as an adequate substitute, the "lavish program of aid and investment" would serve to decorate the neo-state, make it feel to all involved as more than a Potemkin village - and, on the day of its declaration and recognition, or re-declaration and re-recognition, as more than a passel of refugee camps and bantustans with a flag to wave and anthem to sing at World Cup games.

This pseudo-state pseudo-solution to the pseudo-crisis might indeed hold out a materially and even morally superior life for the Palestinians, but every latest round of state violence alongside the general depravation of Palestinian Arab life, whether in the West Bank, in Gaza, in refugee camps, or amongst a second-class citizenry of a Jewish state, gives contraindications. To be successful, or perhaps pacific and desirable enough to stay mostly out of the news, the Palestinian neo-state would require what we do not have: a responsible and conceptually coherent international community or global regime to take true political-administrative responsibility for its indefinite maintenance, including its "security control."

The plight of Palestinians and predicament of the Israelis correspond to the actual irresponsibility and incoherence of the global regime, still a system of finally self-serving nation-states. Meanwhile, the widely remarked disproportion in casualties between Jewish and Muslim-Arab nationalists shocks the Western-liberal conscience and in shocking it replicates that insufficiency of the Western-liberal concept as a global concept, even while also immediately recording the disproportion in success and maturity, or actually realizable worldly power, between opposing national ideas. Israeli scholars like Arnon Soffer and Benny Morris, as well as the brutal realist politicians who regularly go much further in their remarks than the Prime Minister, seem to expect it may be generations, a century or longer, if ever, before local national Arabisms catch up to Zionism.

Given the non-viability of the Palestinian enclaves, and the inconsequence of the international community, some of those thinkers and possibly unthinking political actors hold open the possibility of annexation or re-annexation of Gaza and the West Bank or whatever remnants. Neither of the candidate annexers, Egypt and Jordan, seems at present likely or able to pursue those old ideas, which of course remain unacceptable if not unmentionable to Palestinian nationalists and friends. So, in every pseudo-crisis we see the same pattern play out: The international community gradually awakens to the familiar alarms, and is nudged by mounting horrors, like those the Prime Minister recently referred to as "telegenic," into assuming its designated role as proxy sovereign, pseudo-sovereign of pseudo-states, insisting on its highly permeable bottom line of humanitarian limits on warfare, intended to constrain every state in the world state of states -  even while "right next door" the bodies are piled in heaps orders of magnitude larger, month by month.

If Hanna is not entirely right, he is more right than Kaplan: Israel prefers "occupation," or quasi-occupation, over any other terms currently on offer, under a strategic concept that works, as violently as deemed necessary, toward a day that the problem of the Palestinian Arabs, by whatever means, is transferred to someone else's political hands. While we are being frank about things, we may also at some point wish to consider our own apparent, objectively actualized preference for the Israelis to keep on handling the ugly matter for us more or less as they do.

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07-29

Ben Alpers at the Society for US Intellectual History Blog provides a useful capsule history on American Exceptionalism:

For most of the history of the term – which originally emerged in the 1920s in debates between Lovestoneites and Stalinists over the future course of socialism in the U.S. – “American exceptionalism” was principally used to designate the belief that the U.S. was unlike other countries is some fundamental way. Of course, the word “exceptional” has at least two distinct meanings: 1) unusual and 2) outstanding. And though “American exceptionalism” tended for most of its history to be used in the first sense, that second sense always lurked in the shadows of its usage.

Alpers also notes that the idea of a special American destiny or predicament long pre-existed the introduction of the term, but the main purpose of his post seems to be to concede defeat in his efforts as a history professor to distinguish other exceptionalisms from the version of it adopted by the contemporary American right as a central creedal tenet:

In recent years, however, I’ve noticed the newer sense of “American exceptionalism” creeping into our class discussions and the students’ papers. I’ll try to ask about the changing ways in which people have understood the U.S. to be different from other countries, and my students will answer with a litany of ways in which the U.S. has been awesome (frequently in their own views, occasionally in those of the people we’re reading).

It now seems to me that I’ve lost this terminological battle. For the moment, at least, I think I’m going to remove the term “American exceptionalism” from my syllabus, outlines, essay prompts, and exams. I’ll have to use a few more words to get my meaning across. Rather than write “American exceptionalism,” I’ll write something like “the belief that America is fundamentally unlike other nations.”

In my comment I proposed he consider a distinction between exceptionality and exceptionalism, a distinction that I've previously tried to advance in various posts also in relation to neo-imperialism and a somewhat geographically deterministic shaping both of American political culture and of American grand strategy - which I also believe converge in unique (or exceptional) ways for America as world-historical power of our era:

I’ve taken to referring to #1 as “exceptionality” – which can refer to a set of readily identifiable geographical and historical facts taken together – and to reserve #2 for “isms” that tend to be associated with one or another #1.

Belief in American exceptionality always implies belief in some other, relatively more normal historical tendency or predicament, but it also just means that we can treat North America as in many ways, materially and concretely, the globe’s prime developable real estate for the entirety of the modern period up to the present, at least initially without prejudice in regard to the form that that development took or its conceivable moral import. I also believe, however, that it will prove impossible for us, either as Americans or as inhabitants of “the world America made” to avoid attributing values of some type to the facts.

Predictably, many of the fiercest opponents of the type of contemporary rightwing exceptionalism described in the post become or turn out to have been not just philosophically anti-exceptionalist or anti-”American exceptionalism” but “anti-American” exceptionalist. It’s also not surprising that people devoted to the view that a nation is not special, is not admirable, is not chosen for a special fate by God, or perhaps is remarkably evil and dangerous (seat of imperialism, militarism, global capitalism, ecological destruction, genocidal colonialism, etc.) will in normal times have difficulty attaining power and influence, since they are denied or deny themselves the indispensable political resources of good honest demagogy.

Further discussion of this topic, as I have previously stressed, requires a return at some point to philosophy of world history as Hegel understood and explained it, and where the idea of a finally necessary link between exceptionality and an exceptionalism other than vulgar right exceptionalism may receive its best defense. We cannot, or anyway I do not, presume that the political right has the idea entirely wrong.

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August08-05

at or in necessity instantaneously re-constructing the architectonics of reasoning faith radially from least thought or thing to totality to infinity

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08-21

Not very long ago, "Islamic state" might have referred to a Western stereotype of "Mohammadean" passivity and fatalism. Today, while the West sometimes seems to have been overtaken by the condition or some version of it, the phrase now stands for something rather else in public discussion: It conjures images of a different kind of nihilism, an active form perhaps better described as annihilism and xenomisia, producing acts that naturally provoke a reciprocal counter-annihilism. Whether that reaction will be lasting and, furthermore, can be matched efficiently to means, remains, to say the least, unclear.

Terrorism analyst Brian Fishman warns against "BS[-ing] the American People About Iraq, Syria, and ISIL," focusing on proposals to "roll back" ISIL (or ISIS, or the Islamic State (IS), or "Daesh"), some of them attempting to apply the model from the initial, SOF-on-horseback phase of Operation Enduring Freedom. According, for instance, to Colonel Pete Mansoor (ret.), Petraeus' Executive Officer in 2007 (and thoughtful witness to and analyst of the prologue to the Iraqi Surge), even the President's very limited plans would seem to require 10,000-15,000 troops "on the ground," if mainly in support roles. Fishman sees a danger, less from such analysis than as a result of its being over-hyped and under-considered, of "mission creep":

Advocating the defeat of ISIL over the short-term without acknowledging what will be necessary to achieve that end is a recipe for mission creep. Mission creep is a recipe for policy failure because the American people will not allow sustained investment in a policy they did not commit to originally.

It is not even clear, as a matter of fact, that the American people (or any people) will usually allow sustained investment even when, according to all the polls and to the votes of elected and re-elected representatives, we actually do commit to a policy as solemnly, lawfully, and unitedly as we know how. That lesson is one lesson that we can draw, and draw again, whether or not we should, from performance over time in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, and, if we are of a mind for lessons, from Lebanon, Vietnam, Korea, and numerous other campaigns and battles all the way back to the founding of the American republic (which will be found far from alone under the general topic of democratic unreliability). The lessons have been so well-learned, it has lately seemed, that risk of any kind has been beyond us: We could not or anyway did not muster the will for strikes against the Assad regime in the period following the mass atrocity at East Ghouta, measures which, as we observed in detail a year ago, the President had concluded we "should" take, but which, he very ingloriously found, we were not willing to approve. Fishman, like the President and his supporters, converts the latter fact into a replacement for the former value: If we could not have, then we should not have. Furthermore, we should not "BS" ourselves or anyone else: best never to get started; best never to mislead desperate would-be allies; in the meantime dishonest to blame the President or any leader, or perhaps any analyst, for correctly assessing our constitutional incapacities.

All the same, justifications will remain for a war hawk to go ahead anyway, whether or not the country appears capable of acting: First, saying we should attempt something, except that we lack the will, and for only that reason should not make the attempt, risks if it does not already represent self-fulfilling prophecy, and a devastatingly self-extending self-indictment. Some would use the word cowardice; others might adopt more polite terminology borrowed from clinical psychology. To employ Fishman's terms, we would be observing our "broken discourse," the incapacities of our "political institutions," and the somewhat pathetic maneuvers of a president - doing "less than he should (and maybe would) if he could manage the domestic politics and the U.S. Congress better" - and simply giving up. However we choose to put the matter, we cannot know just how far we have sunk into national apathy, despondency, and aboulia until we are put to the test.

The second argument, from the perspective of a hawk or, less prejudicially, from the perspective of someone convinced of the initial "should," and further convinced that the "should not" is part of systemic failure that sooner or later will demand correction, putting down a marker now will qualify as necessary, honorable, and prudent, not just for the purpose of setting oneself apart from those easily overcome by fear and doubt, but also because, two or ten years from now, or the day after the sufficient provocation, whatever form it takes, even the counsel that is no longer implementable may still serve as a model for the one found to be necessary.

As for now, even if we are not yet ready to insist, like Hussein Ibish, on that necessity, trusting in courage to discover resources not readily apparent to the already morally defeated, reasonably serious proposals or proposals from serious people deserve to be addressed on their own terms. Fishman's post begins to explain why overselling a theoretically limited intervention may be dangerous. What specifically, however, is wrong with General Allen's plan to "Destroy the Islamic State Now," or with Ambassador Hof's plan for a 100,000-soldier Syrian National Stabilization Force - aside from the possibility that we may not have our feelings all in order, or that small-minded partisans may have nurtured the hope of using one or another scandal against a sitting president or future nominee?

Allen, who commanded Marines in Anbar province so may be taken to know something about his topic, happens to take cognizance of war weariness, but treats it as somewhat irrelevant:

IS must be destroyed and we must move quickly to pressure its entire “nervous system,” break it up, and destroy its pieces. As I said, the president was absolutely right to strike IS, to send advisors to Iraq, to arm the Kurds, to relieve the suffering of the poor benighted people of the region, to seek to rebuild functional and non-sectarian Iraqi Security Forces and to call for profound change in the political equation and relationships in Baghdad.

The whole questionable debate on American war weariness aside, the U.S. military is not war weary and is fully capable of attacking and reducing IS throughout the depth of its holdings, and we should do it now, but supported substantially by our traditional allies and partners, especially by those in the region who have the most to give – and the most to lose – if the Islamic State’s march continues.

Hof, who received the rank of Ambassador under the Obama Administration, but left to become a lacerating critic of Obama Syria policy, is not directly focused on IS, but rather on a large, multi-national effort mainly employing Syrians as "boots on the ground" in the pseudo-Caliphate's Levantine holdings:

There is no doubt that Syria ultimately will have to be pacified and stabilized by a force willing and able to restore order, enforce peace, protect civilians, and respond to proper civil authority. Inevitably, there are discussions of roles involving the United Nations, NATO, the Arab League, and perhaps others. Yet this is a job for Syrians. The United States, its allies, and its partners should help build and shape the requisite capabilities. The time to get started is now.

If there is nothing wrong with such plans on their own terms, taken separately or together, then our inability to consider them tells us something worth knowing about the state of our "broken discourse" or of the broken spirit that prevents us from repairing it or its ruptured foundations - and, most of all, from doing what otherwise we would recognize should be done and someday must be done. If there is something wrong with those plans, however, then either specific problems or misconceptions will presumably be addressable, or the larger flaws will tell us something about what is wrong with our political and military elites, or with their picture of the world and how it works. Fishman's analysis, however valuable and articulate, would be revealed as too backward-looking, and the period of "don't just do something - stand there" in U.S. policy as never likely to last for very long: "What is to be done?" ("What should be done?") takes precedence when entire peoples face destruction, and the battle, whether or not we wanted it or knew we wanted it, has already been re-joined.

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08-24
08-27

The Caliphate is an image or idea, expressed in a dogmatic vernacular, of a just international - or transnational - order, predicated on the perceived injustice and experienced disorder of the existent world state of states. The atrocities committed in its name produce as counter-images the unifying moral precepts of the alternative global regime, revealing the latter as counter-idea or the same idea under transposed terms, with every significant initiative - integration of inclusive state-national powers, removal of gross inequities, formation or renewal of alliances, exercise of global security control, and so on - representing a further coalescence or elaboration of that regime. In this sense, the absolute requirement for defeat of the wrong Caliphate is the establishment of a right one, even if in the manner of a "Fight Club" whose existence must not be acknowledged as such.

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08-29

my_timeline_like_for_weeks_now...plus a few observations as tweeted. I'm sure I missed a few good pieces (possibly while I was busy yesterday, for instance). Please feel free to link anything interesting or useful in the comments.

  1. RT @BlogsofWar: RT @DefenseOne: Gen. John Allen: Destroy the Islamic State Now | http://t.co/Xw7Xl6s4ib http://t.co/yKsmDUT1OB 19:18:52, 2014-08-20
  2. Hof's proposal for Syria - relate to Allen's re ISIS? RT @michaeldweiss @nadabakos @blakehounshell This: http://t.co/30TI3R5eaL in reply to michaeldweiss 19:35:07, 2014-08-20
  3. [The Brian Fishman piece:] RT @PaulSzoldra: This is a really great analysis. “Don’t bullshit the American people about Iraq, Syria, and ISIL” http://t.co/s0nhrBqVF4 23:52:28, 2014-08-20
  4. RT @NoahCRothman: That ISIS guy who promised to raise Islamic flag over the White House? He’s dead http://t.co/cmJ3yAI78B http://t.co/SGWf17jMK8 12:57:41, 2014-08-21
  5. RT @hxhassan: Dempsey says Isil will be defeated when it's rejected by the Sunnis from Damascus to Baghdad. 13:01:25, 2014-08-21
  6. RT @hxhassan: Dempsey says he thinks Isil's momentum has been disrupted. It was the momentum behind their successes. It'll be contained & defeated 13:01:44, 2014-08-21
  7. RT @Joyce_Karam: Interesting times: #Hezbollah condemns #ISIS' beheading of US citizen James Foley. http://t.co/35vMC1pFhY 19:33:17, 2014-08-21
  8. RT @javierespinosa2: Killing of #JamesFoley "contradicts sharia,angers Allah,Prophet & believers",statement of jihadi Al-Tartusi & other syrian clerics #Syria 19:41:29, 2014-08-21
  9. RT @wk344407: Very interesting: "Why Islamic State has no sympathy for Hamas" - http://t.co/WzOlOiBkcK #ISIS #Iraq #Syria 22:19:16, 2014-08-21
  10. RT @csdickey: Obama Readies for War on ISIS http://t.co/0QkL2l1Ql4 via @elilake 22:34:07, 2014-08-21
  11. RT @abuliberali: A timely reminder by @BklynMiddleton that Assad is every bit as evil as ISIS & the enemy of my enemy isn't my friend: http://t.co/8VybbThkj9 08:13:29, 2014-08-22
  12. RT @hxhassan: Read: The Re-Baathification of Iraq http://t.co/DYGa09Jo4X 09:57:41, 2014-08-22
  13. RT @wk344407: Must-read piece from @akhedery: "Assad's genocidal regime – perhaps the single greatest root cause of #ISIS's rise" http://t.co/yXWFDjpXBi 10:10:55, 2014-08-22
  14. New: Rod Spared. For Now. http://t.co/CCOeNV4L8F #monetization_2 13:14:04, 2014-08-22
  15. RT @hxhassan: The ISIS Within http://t.co/B8yCGK0Qbg by @haningdr 21:15:25, 2014-08-22
  16. RT @cmagill: If you're having a bad day remember somewhere an NSA analyst is trying to write an algorithm that can detect 'IS(IS)' but not the word 'is' 12:55:49, 2014-08-23
  17. RT @csdickey: How a Real Air War Could Demolish ISIS http://t.co/kc42ikBbXV via @thedailybeast 12:59:12, 2014-08-23
  18. RT @RekkaKroenen: (1/2) Elite British and US special forces troops are forming a hunter killer unit called Task Force Black – its orders: “Smash the 13:04:40, 2014-08-23
  19. RT @RekkaKroenen: (2/2) Islamic State.” http://t.co/awE6JL2kWz
    #Iraq #Syria 13:04:54, 2014-08-23
  20. #prt "Iraqi special forces unit called the Apostles" 13:08:49, 2014-08-23
  21. RT @ChemiShalev: US 'set to launch air strikes' on senior Isis terror chiefs in Syria http://t.co/y3ZteqDCUG 21:55:16, 2014-08-23
  22. RT @hxhassan: My latest for The Guardian (print) about responses to Isis and how a regional realignment is taking place http://t.co/8taK7mo9hq 23:48:17, 2014-08-23
  23. Janet Daly: ISIS psychotic, not Islamic http://t.co/bQ7pWsn8pX vs @tufailelif:
    Jihadism a problem within Islam http://t.co/DsVe5sKIqO 08:11:02, 2014-08-24
  24. RT @Joyce_Karam: Fred Hof: #Assad shares goal with #ISIS caliph, can not fight it. #Syria http://t.co/55F7VBPRFJ 09:21:45, 2014-08-25
  25. RT @ABC: US Special Ops. sources describe ISIS as an "incredible" fighting force: http://t.co/aq5R2T3eRX - @meekwire http://t.co/iGf9eZ7uez 12:39:35, 2014-08-25
  26. RT @vonFalkenhorst: Leftist army abolisher and right-wing keeper of neutrality call 4 support for christians fighting IS http://t.co/5rhCy8kJya cc @20committee 14:50:25, 2014-08-25
  27. RT @Doranimated: .@MaxBoot makes sense about ISIS | http://t.co/27NJSBdkBD 14:55:55, 2014-08-25
  28. RT @osint_org: Meet ‘QSIS’: A new twist in what to call the extremist group rampaging in Iraq and Syria http://t.co/RGvbZVRmyx 09:07:10, 2014-08-26
  29. RT @DenisonBe: Great @monkeycageblog post by @Prof_BearB on why American diplomacy appears to be failing http://t.co/ItWG4jZcXh 19:48:05, 2014-08-26
  30. RT @zaidbenjamin: #Qatar | Qradawai: The declaration of Caliphate is meaningless. Today's caliphate is a federal or confederal between the muslim countries. 21:51:52, 2014-08-26
  31. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Theory and Practice of Jihad http://t.co/3GFHsKSbT5 h/t (kinda indirectly) to @aelkus 23:56:05, 2014-08-26
  32. Goldilocks vs Baghdadi: Why would the U.S. want to be ISIS’s ‘Far Enemy’?@selectedwisdom http://t.co/zDCedZGN3z 09:28:18, 2014-08-27
  33. RT @brianfishman: Good piece on ISIL military strength by @mikeknightsiraq in @ctcwp Sentinel: http://t.co/aLqTk5D02B 10:36:16, 2014-08-27
  34. "Douglas MacArthur McCain" 12:36:50, 2014-08-27
  35. RT @oomarGCC: Attacking the Islamic State IS attacking Assad https://t.co/HYE15JO7jr very insightful piece by @Ibishblog via @_Wamik 23:35:14, 2014-08-27
  36. RT @DavidLauter: U.S. public opinion shifting on American role, notably more support for active involvement new @pewresearch finds, http://t.co/aD8L3j3s2O 12:36:45, 2014-08-28
  37. RT @abuliberali: Fantastic report on the Iran-backed Shi'a militias that are the real military of the rump Shi'a Iraqi state: http://t.co/LXCSZMe671 14:03:48, 2014-08-28
  38. RT @hopisen: New motto: Speak softly but ask regional actors to agree on the possible future use of an appropriately sized stick. 14:05:43, 2014-08-28
  39. RT @haaretzcom: Israel-Gaza war was only a distraction from real Mideast agenda: Threat of Islamic State http://t.co/XQh79BMCRF 23:00:13, 2014-08-28
  40. RT @kurdishblogger: WHY OBAMA BACKED OFF MORE ISIS STRIKES: HIS OWN TEAM COULDN’T AGREE ON A SYRIA STRATEGY http://t.co/SP5Q9oNNhK 00:19:18, 2014-08-29
  41. #pt that said... RT @londil Let’s Keep ISIS in Perspective « http://t.co/OfAkin77CB http://t.co/c7Mstcs8Jq in reply to londil 00:32:17, 2014-08-29
  42. RT @hxhassan: Islamist gains in Syria alarm some Assad allies http://t.co/pzSmKLPxcf via @reuters 09:11:13, 2014-08-29
  43. RT @rmslim: By far this is one of z best, if not z best analysis, of unfolding devepts in the Arab region penned by Yezid Sayigh http://t.co/zMW7oGUsKZ 09:52:10, 2014-08-29

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Odd that in this age of immediate accessibility of everything, Bruce Conner's film for Brian Eno and David Byrne's "America Is Waiting," from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, is not currently available on-line in a full length and reasonably high quality version.

First, here's the best quality version, but it's only 2 minutes of the 3:44 film:

http://vimeo.com/78343474

 

Here's a full-length but low quality version from a Korean site. You may have to put up with an ad.

Here's a full-length version of the song on YouTube, with video that I think captures the spirit of Conner's work. I left a silly comment at YouTube advising the creator to check Conner out, but it's obvious on second thought that "0ldfinger" already had:

I would not be surprised if all three of these videos are extinct within a few months - I'm guessing taken down for rights infringement - but maybe the original will turn up again somewhere else by then...

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September09-02

Leon Wieseltier, in "Obama Was Wrong[:] The Era of Humanitarian Intervention Is Not Over":

Barack Obama believed that he could preside over the end of humanitarian intervention, which he called simply war. He was momentously wrong... History, whose course he thought he knew, has trapped him. Obama can no longer get away with his routine as the uplifting realist. There is no such being.

Rhetorical treason against the American Idea: If Americanism is right, then it represents the uniquely both realistic and uplifting idea, the means for the real attainment of what good can really be attained, while recognition of that good as both real and really good ought to be uplifting, or authentically and therefore all the more uplifting. Americanism is not just pragmatic but pragmaticist: It does not accept that its actualizability must be diminishing, or that its endless perfectibility, or imperfections, and extensibility, or limitations, are spiritual defects. It demotes all other utopianisms, all eroticizations of lesser because merely imaginary "rights," as relatively defective and dangerous unless understood realistically for what they are: things that never can be.

History, whose course Wieseltier often seems to think he knows, has trapped him: The failure to maintain the romance alongside the reality and the reality alongside the romance leads to transparently one-sided recitations of facts as thought known but obviously neither fully thought through nor truly known, in which whichever realized "nightmare" is purely the result of  a president's failure of courage and vision, when, as everyone knows or ought to know, the dreary realism of the chief executive was and still remains as it could only have been: an adequation to the mood or thought or shaken will of a nation taught skepticism by the unhappy results of its last Wieseltierian fling. It is not in the nature of emotions, individual emotions or mass emotions, for any particular state of them to persist forever. In the meantime, to insist there is no such being as an uplifting realist is pure pessimism - reality as inherently depressive - and completely contrary to the yearnings that Wieseltier, as best friend of the historically lovelorn, or like Ahab to the "sanely woeful" Blacksmith, wishes to encourage in us once again.

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09-10

Summary: A year ago, Americans were being asked to kill non-enemies because it was abstractly right; now are being asked to kill enemies at war with us.

A - ISIS and "excess males":
  1. #prt @holland_tom Olivier Roy among others diagnosed appeal of Islamism in relation to useless male syndrome in highly patriarchal culture in reply to holland_tom 11:30:08, 2014-09-06
  2. #pt so a hyper-masculine reaction to a sense of emasculation, or ISIS a "fraternity" on limitless Spring Break @holland_tom in reply to CK_MacLeod 11:35:24, 2014-09-06
  3. #pt same pattern, of course in much less extreme form, is found across the West - merely denouncing its manifestations tends to feed it 11:41:30, 2014-09-06
  4. #pt Seems we resist old solutions for "excess males/masculinity" only up to the moment we find ourselves embracing them, and it, again... 11:47:13, 2014-09-06
  5. #pt ...converting the problem into its own solution, so no longer a problem at all, but a resource and vital necessity 11:49:10, 2014-09-06
B - ISIS as "going concern":
  1. RT @peterpburns: The #ISIS magazine absolutely blows me away. http://t.co/dhIKbzeYiI 00:06:39, 2014-09-07
  2. ...Only ISIS Can Destroy ISIS – The Unfortunate Merits of the “Let Them Rot” Strategy @selectedwisdom http://t.co/q2UL2Zyaze 08:29:26, 2014-09-08
C - "Strategy"
  1. RT @wpreview: .@NewYorker editor David Remnick on Obama's no stupid stuff doctrine, "not a mantra to be derided or dismissed." http://t.co/4uX14He6hC 10:03:46, 2014-09-08
  2. RT @Max_Fisher: This is the speech Obama would give on ISIS if he were brutally honest http://t.co/MoNREmrOLA via @voxdotcom 09:25:55, 2014-09-09
  3. #prt good but leaves out one thing, post-Foley/Sotloff: "Blood will have blood." See also Gen 9:6 @Max_Fisher @voxdotcom @zackbeauchamp in reply to Max_Fisher 09:31:58, 2014-09-09
  4. #pt can also be expressed prudentially, as a real "interest" to demonstrate that murder of Americans will not go unpunished by America 09:35:16, 2014-09-09
  5. #pt in that context, this by @sullydish seems profoundly blind to requirements and reality of national community: http://t.co/HpZRag2nl0 09:38:12, 2014-09-09
  6. #pt @sullydish "awaits the proof of ISIS' threat to America" as though we did not just see ISIS murdering Americans and threatening America 09:40:26, 2014-09-09
  7. @wk344407 a panicky-fearful polemic against (supposed) panic and fear from a notoriously panicky-fearful polemicist @sullydish in reply to wk344407 09:50:12, 2014-09-09
D - Blood will have blood - twitter talk

annoying black/@bpsycho1[ab]: They were there though. That matters.

me: you mean that ISIS was "there" as in "not here"?

ab: Sotloff & Foley were there. There's a difference between threats to Americans in Iraq & Syria & threats to the US.

me: a "difference" of a kind – but an America satisfied with a world where Americans can be murdered for "crime" of traveling…

me: American citizens, and presidents especially, are not permitted indifference to aggression against Americans wherever they are

ab: an area being dangerous for US journalists is one odd cause for war…

me: ISIS didn't send out a travel advisory – it sent and reiterated a direct threat and challenge signed vividly in American blood

ab A trap, more like.

me: life is a trap

ab: Jumping in further would turn the perceived threat into a self fulfilling prophecy.

me: prophecy already fulfilled, already "in" – the "perceived threat" is already a "felt injury"

me: see earlier tweets + x years of blog posts: objective of intervention likely not narrowly instrumental or merely "rational"

ab: Wounded pride of politicians at rejection of global jurisdiction doesn't = another 9/11…

ab: Response to it on the other hand surely would encourage such an attempt

me: "another 9/11" is Sully's overwrought claim – tho continuation within larger history that includes 9/11 seems obvious

me: that's speculation – "non-response to it," if even conceivable, would "surely" have a political/security meaning as well

ab: as long as the meaning wasn't to create larger danger it'd be a better result than the response is likely to draw.

me: since it's inconceivable, may not be worth discussing – but "larger danger" – largest conceivable danger – would be "sure"

ab: Of course it's not rational. It's *ridiculous*, it rests on a pile of falsehoods & machismo.

me: "that's just like your opinion, man"

me: was it just "ridiculous" "machismo" for people to take the killing of Michael Brown seriously, as a communal affront?

ab: we're at risk of that type of shit every day. No claim of outside authority or proxy fighters is involved.

me: obviously substantively different, but in form identical: one identifies with the group, acknowledges a "vital" connection >>

me: >> proceeds according to moral/ethical concepts under an assertion that "this must not stand" for sake of life worth living, >>

ab: The US has the option of not meddling in other countries. Blacks don't have the option of not existing.

me: "The US" does not in fact have the option of launching itself into outer space intact and setting up shop somewhere else.

ab: "This must not stand" is a formulation used on the other side too, btw. Towards what the US does.

me: so, reporting on events overseas is "meddling"? Sotloff and Foley were to blame for what happened to them and should be forgotten?

ab: Withdrawal from hegemony isn't ejection from the planet.

ab: Sotloff & Foley caught crossfire from conditions the US gov't had a hand in creating.

ab: clearly IS still holds OBLs oddball view of responsibility.

me: and responding to the murder of citizens is not "hegemony" (and hegemony is not "meddling" either)

ab: its claim of authority & responsibility over the rest of the world, and actions in that vein.

me: "its" (our) claim of an interest in the lives and deaths of "its" (our fellow) citizens – we have specifically not claimed >>

me: "authority & responsibility" over events in Iraq and Syria, much to the chagrin of some who think we clearly should accept more

ab: why should the US have any responsibilities towards or authority over Iraq at all?

me: could be answered in many ways, but not initially in question here

E - Strategy 2: Eve of Containment, Eye for an ISIS
  1. @Aelkus @LawDavF @NuisanceValue You've been mentioned in my #Storify story "The Strategist's Melancholy" http://t.co/UfCBoOAWps 13:00:11, 2014-09-09
  2. RT @JeffreyGoldberg: Obama's Syrian chemical weapons deal turns out to have been a good thing, especially considering what's coming: http://t.co/7rZ6HXbRKK 15:50:32, 2014-09-09
  3. RT @mmurraypolitics: Poll finds that the beheadings of 2 Americans had the highest penetration of any news event in NBC/WSJ poll over past 5 yrs 15:50:47, 2014-09-09
  4. RT @abuaardvark: ISIS has created a unique opportunity to forge regional accord on Syria, but it won't last - my new essay http://t.co/54BrS2VGQI 15:59:03, 2014-09-09
  5. RT @LobeLog: America vs. ISIS: Be Careful What You Wish For http://t.co/YlsNm7KS3u #Obama #Syria 08:22:38, 2014-09-10
  6. RT @wrightr: After #Obama speaks tonight, what are risks US faces in a 3rd Iraq war? Truly daunting. My piece in @NewYorker. http://t.co/JKiwY343pi 08:46:27, 2014-09-10
  7. #prt informative, but attaches objectives to campaign plan not actually as far as we know a part of it @wrightr @NewYorker in reply to wrightr 08:50:50, 2014-09-10
  8. #pt problem begins with framing as "3rd Iraq War," thus assumption that Iraqi state as such must be primary concern @wrightr @NewYorker in reply to CK_MacLeod 08:57:43, 2014-09-10

Though I understand that Iraqi state - its constitution and integrity - will continue to be made a part of American strategy, I think that the primary goal is a negative one: containment-equivalent-to-destruction, destruction-equivalent-to-containment, destruction-and-containment equivalent to satisfactorily exemplary punishment of ISIS and collaborators.

F - Lena Dunham

Not my feeling, but there we are.

Comment →
09-17

Referring to the group simply as "IS" quietly constitutes the enemy as "the Islamic State," and reinforces perception of the struggle as anti-Islamic for some, for others as significantly a different thing: anti-Islamist.

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09-26

My comment today at "Ordinary Times" (first in more than a year):

You think you want to live in a world where the murder of Americans as Americans, or politically, could be broadcast to all, in connection with the rescue of innocents from genocide, and our response would be indirectly mathematical, while we turned to comedians to handle whatever stray remainders. IS/ISIL/ISIS/Daesh qualifies as an existential threat to the precise extent that failure to respond [directly] would equate with self-nullification. It is only the actual impossibility of non-response that diminishes the appearance of danger.

Aside from the fact that I have nothing against the author Mike Dwyer - and have in fact found him to be a congenial and open-minded ordinary gentleperson - I think the reason I was moved to respond directly on this question of being moved to respond directly was an email from a former participant in these parts that took a similar form, referring me to a Stephen Colbert video on the "supposed ISIS crisis." I don't urge anyone interested in a serious consideration of these matters to click on the link, but one minute is probably as good as another of the ca. nine-minute piece if you want to know what passes for "perspective" in certain quarters. The advertisement you may have to sit through first probably qualifies as about as useful on the topic.

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October10-02
10-09

If I find the time, I will finish and publish a more developed piece on America's stance toward the Islamic State, partly in response to a post on by Adam Elkus and Nick Prime that, in the process of proposing a theory for understanding and formulating American anti-IS strategy and policy, happened to link to a post here.

In the meantime, I have been engaging in discussion at Crooked Timber relating to a commentary by John Quiggin that I believe completely misstates the bases of American Middle East policy in a familiar way. The comments reprise many past themes at this blog, but I hope they may also help advance the discussion, or at worst clear away some brush.

My first comment:

The key false or at best badly and misleadingly overstated assumption underlying the linked article as well as the main argument highlighted in the OP is that US policy has ever or could ever have been to “govern the affairs of millions of people on the other side of the planet.” At no time, even during the height of the “nation-building” phase of the occupation of Iraq, has the US sought to “govern the affairs” of the people of the Middle East. Governing the affairs of the people of the Middle East would require an investment of blood and treasure that the US has never contemplated. It’s not precisely an absurd concept, but it does not resemble the American neo-imperial concept as actually implemented.

The US has predictably – or consistently – acted when Americans have perceived their core interests endangered by events in the region. These interests mainly concern preservation of the international political-economic order against significant disruptions, especially by major war. Otherwise, Americans have mainly sought, like everyone else, to influence events that occur below that threshold in one way or another, with mixed results, since we have many competitors.

Contrary to the professor’s claims, which mainly focus on the US failing to achieve goals of relatively little actual interest to the US, the strategy has been overall quite successful for around 70 years, and the “trillions of dollars” may be deemed, as in fact they have been deemed by the American body politic, a worthwhile investment (for an economy with a ca. $17 trillion annual GDP). The strategy seems less successful than it has been because its fundamental tenets are simply presumed, and most of the public discussion instead revolves around aspirational matters – Arab-Israeli peace, liberalization in law, politics, and society, and so on.

In that last connection, there is of course nothing wrong with concern for the welfare of the people of the Middle East, but there is violent disagreement, not least among the Middle Easterners themselves, about the shape and content of progress or potential progress. At present, the US seems quite under the spell of a soft imperialism of low expectations. Americans do not expect things to go well for the people of the region anytime soon, regardless of what America attempts, nor do they see much profit to the US in escalated involvement, but American core interests are still affected or potentially imperiled by events there. So, America will continue to be involved, despite generally being disposed to limit and if possible to decrease its involvement, amidst uncertainty as to the region’s and the world’s willingness to cooperate.

Second comment, replying to "Ronan(rf)" - who seemed mainly to agree with me, but raised questions about whether IS represented "any large body of ideological opinion"  in the region. Rather than delve into the problem of the representativeness of "the Islamic State" for radical Islamism generally, I tried to stress what I have been arguing is the main point for America or Americans at this juncture:

Ronan(rf), there is, of course, much more to be said on this topic – whole libraries to be dedicated to it, with a new special collection to be dedicated to what IS can be said to represent, but I agree with you, not least because IS has directly provoked the US and allies via political murder, producing not just a potential cause of action, but a corresponding political requirement for it.

Third comment (with corrections) replying to roger gatham - who offered an I think somewhat representative "American anti-war left" position:

By your own account, the statement of mine that you call a misstatement qualifies as at least literally true in two ways: Those “elites” whom you hold entirely responsible for Operation Iraqi Freedom are Americans, and in your depiction of the American system, make American policy. You also indicate that the American citizenry in general succumbed to the sales pitch. So, from the other point of view, in which American policy represents what Americans in general want, or recognize as affecting their core interests, they were finally on board with OIF.

More to the point, the notion of enduring American interests embedded within an American grand strategy or “clear and consistent rationale” somewhat bypasses the question of how a political system produces decisions or what people tell themselves about how decisions are made and what they mean. A core interest is not an interest that changes according to fluctuations in popular opinion or movement from one political administration to another. That a substantial number of Americans who were convinced about the justification for OIF in 2003 were unconvinced by 2013, or whether OIF was well-implemented and conducted, has no bearing on whether OIF emerged in relation to American core interests and a clear and predictable or consistent rationale derived from them. To use your metaphor, those interests are deeper than “the grass roots.” They are the ground in which the roots are rooted. From this perspective also, the 2002-3 decision on Iraq did not occur in isolation, in some fit of elite pique, but was a continuation or sequel to the Gulf War, whose prologue in turn was the determination, already re-affirmed through military action (the Tanker War), that free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf and, relatedly, non-domination of the region by any competitor were “vital” American interests, the term that used to be more in fashion before today’s “existential.”

On this latest chapter, you misstate the policy as it has been repeatedly articulated, though the difference may initially appear trivial to you. The policy is “to degrade and ultimately destroy,” not simply to “exterminate” IS. The difference is the difference between a long term strategy involving indirect action, and something simple and immediate. At the same time, to the consternation of war hawks and of some regional allies, the policy is not really to overthrow the Assad regime, but to bring about a settlement in Syria viewed as impossible without his departure, yet likely including elements of the regime itself. Supporting a small, disciplined and CIA-certified Jihadist-free force that in some future process might represent our position – i.e., for an inclusive government that can preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and protect civil peace – is a far cry from actively seeking to “overthrow” Assad.

Part of the difficulty in finding rebel forces in any large number to support is how constricted American policy is in this regard – including by congressional design, which reflects a strong sense of wariness on the part of your public customer. On this note, whether actions to contain and “degrade” IS, mainly focused in Iraq, including for legal reasons, happen to benefit or to be seen to benefit the Syrian regime in the short-term is quite secondary. We know it is secondary because we decided last year in a very public and democratic, if never fully formalized process, that we would not engage in acts of war against the Syrian regime. The appearance of policy contradiction originates on the ground or perhaps at the grassroots both over there and over here. We are prepared to kill and take casualties of our own in fights with IS and AQ. We have not reached that determination in relation to Assad, whether or not we should have or whether or not some of us think we should have.

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10-11

...you do seem, at least, to be endlessly rationalizing U.S. imperial overreach, as if it were some sort of grand strategy upholding universal “liberal democracy”, where I tend to see incoherence, disintegration and devolution, on the part of grossly incompetent, irresponsible and ignorant ruling elites.

To which I would reply: Incoherence, disintegration, and devolution on the part of (generally) incompetent, irresponsible, and ignorant ruling elites is the grand strategy, or a leading element of the grand strategy, upholding universal liberal democracy. Or: Read your Madison and de Tocqueville, or prior posts at this blog (for instance, "The State of the Neo-Empire Is Strong"), or await publication of a long-form post currently in draft form on strategy and the neo-imperial state. Or: You'd like us even less if we were more competent.

Otherwise, same intro for this post as for the last one. I don't yet have time to work out a "real" post, but want to archive useful discussion even if some of it is redundant (not to mention repetitious - sorry about that). I'm leaving out some trivial side-arguments and -comments - but am including a somewhat off-topic exchange with friend of this blog john c halasz (respecting his preference for lower case), because it is intermixed with the IS discussion, and also raises some issues of abiding interest to me for possible extended examination:

jch to me:

Maybe it’s because of your pro-Israel stance or your aggressive Americanism, but I think you’ve got this badly wrong. Loathsome as the Assad regime might be, (though no more than lot of others in the region, including “allies”, and it doesn’t pay to personalize the matter), it does represent the interests of a significant portion of the Syrian population, (not just Alawites, but Christians and secular Sunnis, etc.) in a country with a highly fissiparous social structure,- (remember the Lebanese civil war lasted 15 years),- against both fundamentalist fanatics and the prospect of complete disintegration. (And the precursor to the uprising was a severe drought which the regime either couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with).

If our elites, our “fearless leaders”, weren’t so heedless and profligate, then the obvious course would have been to try and contain the Syrian civil war, and constrain various regional actors from interfering in and fomenting it, resulting in a general and artificial Shja/Sunni regional conflict. And, as it is, dealing the weakened Assad regime in, to effect a regional settlement still remains the best course, given the dire alternatives. That’s better than a lot of gratuitous, self-righteous moralizing to cover a multitude of sins.

Despite differing initial premises, I tend to side with conservative realists like Col. Bacevich: you can have a republic or you can have an empire, but you can’t have both. Which side are you on?

reply to jch:

We’ve had discussions like this before at my blog, a couple of times, and it seems to me that when I have asked you – with sincere interest – to point out what I have written that leads you to reach the conclusions you reach about my views or stances, as here in regard to Israel, Americanism, and Assad, you break off the discussion or simply ignore the request.

As for Bacevich and broader questions, like most everyone else who has studied the topic, I acknowledge the tension between “republic” and “empire,” but the notion of their mutual exclusivity, or of choosing one but not the other, was, I believe, overthrown around two hundred years ago, and replaced with the concept and, quite arguably, the reality of their interdependence for modern mass societies. At this point – I mean right here on this thread – even if I were inclined to take a side, I couldn’t be confident that what it meant to me would be the same as what it meant to you, to Bacevich, or to anyone else.

jch to me:

Well, it’s difficult amidst all the abstracted curlicues to pin down the exact points of inference and implication; that’s beyond my hermeneutic skills. So I have to rely on a sense of the general tenor. But you do seem, at least, to be endlessly rationalizing U.S. imperial overreach, as if it were some sort of grand strategy upholding universal “liberal democracy”, where I tend to see incoherence, disintegration and devolution, on the part of grossly incompetent, irresponsible and ignorant ruling elites. (And the rise of “mass societies” in the 19th century is, at the very least, an incomplete description; the emergence of industrial capitalism was a main driver. So “making the world safe for MNCs” might be a better description of the “universal” interest that is being pursued).

As to the general issue here of the Assad regime, the U.S. doesn’t have to support, nor supply it, just acknowledge it. The Russians and the Iranians can provide the support and supplies. (Oops! Those are other pieces of the puzzle our fearless leaders have massively screwed up on.) The real trick, almost impossible to achieve, is to wean the Sunni areas off of supporting Daesh or other Islamic extremists, while leaving them sufficiently armed so that they can feel capable of securing themselves, but not so much that they can go on the offensive. Syria and Iraq likely will never again be unified states. At most peace could be re-instituted on the basis of loose confederations.

But the position of Erdogan puzzles me. Previously, he had pursued conciliatory policies toward Syria and Iran, for the sake of security and economic benefits. When and why did he become a Sunni warrior?

reply to jch (summary of US policy as I understand it):

It’s been almost three years since Erdogan turned against Assad publicly. You can read the former’s own explanations at this NYT article – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/23/world/middleeast/turkish-leader-says-syrian-president-should-quit.html?_r=0

Not easy to reverse yourself on statements like this one, directed at Assad long before East Ghouta or maybe 160 or so thousand casualties ago:

Just remove yourself from that seat before shedding more blood, before torturing more and for the welfare of your country, as well as the region… It is not heroism to fight against your own people. If you want to see someone who has fought against his own people, look at Nazi Germany, Hitler, Mussolini, Ceausescu of Romania. If you do not learn your lesson from them, look at the Libyan leader, who pointed his gun against his own people and, only 32 days ago, got killed in a way that none of us desired, after using the same phrases that you use.

Erdogan’s predicament in this respect is similar to the USG’s, since Obama & co have made similar statements about Assad, and also because Obama & co likely believe them to be true statements.

As for the rest of official US Syria policy, for a few years now it’s been, I think, not too far from the one that you and Ronan seem to favor: a unity government combining regime elements with nationalist opposition forces, cleansed of war criminals and irreconcilable Jihadists; devolution of central powers as practicable and desired, but not break-up of the state.

In the past, at points when the regime seemed more vulnerable, and before the Western-recognized opposition in its earlier incarnation had been discredited, the US hoped to use the Syrian army and other elements of the government to re-build the state quickly (learning from the Iraq experience, ideally). That Assad, with Russian and Iranian support, combats this strategy aimed at his eventual removal with a traditional (and, incidentally, IS-like) counter-strategy of his own should also be considered. By implicating his dependents in unforgivably atrocious crimes, he burns bridges between the former and everyone else. In a parallel manner, Assad’s military campaigns have always focused more on nationalist or “moderate” opposition than on IS and other Jihadist-extremist elements, trying to clarify the choice for everyone else as “me or the terrorists.” IS has somewhat similarly focused much more on its competitors, and on expanding and consolidating its areas of control, than on fighting Assad.

Though Assad’s approached has many vulnerabilities, it has worked especially well in regard to the US, where the idea of funding and arming friends of Al Qaeda is a non-starter, and where people, I guess including you, who would be happy just to see the bloodshed stop, see giving into his regime as the best way to achieve that worthy goal. Yet in the same connection backers of the anti-IS campaign, who wish the US and coalition were doing much more in Syria, believe that the “double effect” (objectively aids Assad) problem has been exaggerated, and that, under a truly consequential escalation against IS, it would be at worst only a short-term concern before the conflict was clarified in a different way: Without the terrorists to point to, the Assad regime would be revealed as the true obstacle in the way of a political settlement and a return to civil peace.

With the terrorist threat being actively “handled,” the main impediment in America to supporting the Syrian opposition substantially would also be removed or reduced. To be implemented successfully, however, this IS-first strategy would eventually require a major commitment from the international community, led by the US and allies, and backed by American and other Western citizens among whom the Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan experiences have reinforced skepticism about our or anyone’s ability to shape a favorable outcome. Whether this is the wrong lesson, or a right lesson in some cases, a wrong one in others, would be another discussion. Prospects for success would also be greatly aided by Russian and Iranian cooperation, which, however, if obtainable at all, might come at a high price.

May seem hard or impossible – may go better than expected. Either way, since the American public is prepared to accept risks in order to “degrade and ultimately destroy” jihadist extremists (i.e., Al Qaeda under whatever name), it is possible for this president to commence an attack on IS while waiting for events that might make shortening the timetable or escalating the military investment politically possible, or might turn our attention elsewhere.

 

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10-16
10-17

(continuing reply to jch's comment, with same proviso as before)

4 - Current Events or: Hegemony, What Is It/Good For?

Now to current events, as we return to the original point of my intervention under the Quiggan post.

jch says:

Whereas ISTM that heedless U.S. doings (and the “Peter principle” governing its supposed elites), have severely undermined its hegemony and its reputation effects. The Mideast is a perfect example, since its actions destabilized the area to the point where neither its ostensible friends or allies, nor its selected enemies show much respect for U.S. interests or objectives

I say:

For me to make sense of the comment I would need to be able to identify and assess the particular "US interests or objectives" jch has in mind, and I would have to know how "respect" for them or "reputation effects" matter - that is, to whom, and to what further effect or effects.

As for the two interests or objectives jch names, I don't accept as a given that the US seeks or should seek "hegemony," but I'm not sure what he means, and don't want to guess. So, I need to know what I am to think US hegemony in the ME would be, and what it would be for. I'll just note that a global hegemony or quasi-hegemony might exist or perhaps would naturally have to exist under widely varying degrees of elaboration - perhaps much more intensive near the "center" or at critical "nodes," much less so at the "periphery." So we could still reasonably speak of a globally hegemonic power without presuming the actuality or necessity of active control or dominance over every speck, or even every region, of land, sea, air, orbit, and adjacent space.

In any event, it doesn't seem to me that jch sees regional hegemony, whatever it would be, as an authentic interest either. I think the US seeks something much easier: It wants to spoil anyone else's hegemonic ambitions before they create too much trouble. Because that objective is somewhat satisfied by chaos - as long as it's sufficiently contained - and because a fully congenial regional order or regional stability may not be attainable, there are many who suspect chaos is in fact the true US objective, even all along the true US objective if never openly and for some unconsciously. If, alternatively, regional chaos is the perverse and unsought result of an attempt to enforce a scheme for regional stability (Bacevich), or the inevitable result of an historical process not finally subject to merely political decision, the effect might be or seem sub-optimal, yet remain net positive for the US.

Something similar goes for "reputation effects." Employing the framework for speculation mentioned in #1 in this series of comments in relation to a comment on a post of comments, if the main US interests in this "technomic" era (a Russian neologism that never caught on), or during this phase of the long age of ocean-faring, or of technologism, or the modern era, are 1) free navigation of the Persian Gulf as element of the international (crucially ocean-borne and still fossil fuels-dependent) economy; 2) prevention of anyone else achieving hegemony either over the Eurasian landmass or within a global region in such a way as to impinge upon an international political-economic system favorable to the US; 3) preservation of general system stability via continued acceptance of American prerogatives as final security guarantor, then "reputation effects" have to develop negatively to a very great extent before they truly require attention - that is, independently represent or prepare or advance a strategic threat. Before such a point is reached, to attend to them will appear optional for us: All things being equal, it pleases us to think others think well of us, and, all the more, to think well of ourselves, but we may believe that, at the end of the day, we can live without the good opinion of the people of the Middle East (who might have some reputational problems of their own).

I also don't see much reason to believe, returning in this connection to a prior topic, that jch's proposal of an active alliance with Assad will be helpful to our reputation, esp among ourselves. I suspect that reputation gets graded on a curve, and that Iran, Russia, Turkey, and other potential regional competitors have not necessarily done themselves a great deal of good in recent years. There are also multiple components in a reputation or different types of reputation: So, what's the reputational bottom line to disturb the thoughtful American's Sunday afternoon?

5 - Clash of Civilizations

jch says:

And I don’t think your reading of Daesh/Al Qaeda, in terms of a supposed “clash of civilizations” and “transcendent values” is remotely plausible. Like Ebola, they are malignant and dangerous, but far more a threat over there than here, and the hysteria is rather misplaced, insofar as it ignores the contributions of “our ” mistakes, which have undermined credibility and legitimacy in the region. But as I think I’ve remarked before here, Daesh/Al Qaeda are just a species of religious nihilism, generated from the shocks of the modern world, (rather in the manner of Arendt’s take on Nazism, as a wildly slap-dash and incoherent ideology, hollow at its core, and thus self-consuming), rather than any enduring opponent, “justifying” the over-extension of the national-security state, when no such “security” is at issue and no such means are appropriate, relevant or effective.

I say:

Though I didn't use the term "clash of civilizations," I think that there is arguably a clash of civilizations or civilizational projects going on, in a format already established in a pre-globalized form thousands of years ago or prior to the arrival of the Prophet - prior to practical ocean-faring: the land civilization loosely defined by the Silk Road vs the sea civilization loosely defined by the Mediterranean - and, if so, the "Islamic State" would be one manifestation of it, not likely the final truth of it, possibly a crystallization of it for our moment, as Nazism (as Heidegger eventually seemed to recognize late, when he wrote on Nietzsche and nihilism) could be even in its hollowness or incoherence a crystallization of pre-existing and very actual and cohering tendencies.

Returning to the here and now restrictively, I don't see IS "hysteria" - except from a few very excitable types. Islamist radicalism has in my view fairly earned its own "enduring" reputation as a threat to be fought: We quite arguably neither can nor should, and anyway simply and observably will not, let the political murders of our fellow citizens go unpunished, whether it's 3,000 or just two of them, and a response seen as disproportionate relative to actuals may seem perfectly proportionate, or even disproportionately small, relative to potentials. Similarly, if we can rescue a people in imminent danger of destruction, we may find it unacceptably cowardly to refuse to do so out of fear of minor risks to ourselves - including whatever risk of "over-extension of the national-security state." Those imagining something else, or diminishing the murders of Foley, Sotloff, and other hostages or the rescue of the Yazidis, Amerlis, or, possibly, the Rojavan Kurds, as mere theater indulge in fantasy often under the name of realism, and diminish their own humanity even as they indict others on the same basis.

6 - American Centuries

jch says:

the decline of the “American century” is as inevitable as a self-inflicted wound

So, I'll close with gratitude to Mr. Halasz for his challenging ideas, and, in relation to the above, offer this last concession: The "American Century" is a bit more than 70 years old by now, or perhaps older if we pre-date the phenomenon to a point prior to the 1941 coinage. Maybe it will end a bit ahead of the implied schedule. Maybe it'll last longer. Notwithstanding jch's opinion of me as a between-the-lines aggressive Americanist, I'm quite willing to consider the possibility that the American wad is shot or mostly shot, and that, as far as the American nation goes if not necessarily also for the American Idea, it'll be mostly defense and decline-management from here on out - and maybe in fact has been mainly defense and decline-management for a much longer time. Maybe the entire "American Century" has been essentially nothing else.

Perhaps jch will concede that, even if the United States, despite those oceans, finally suffers the same humiliations as other once great powers, the welfare and even the lives of billions of people, without exaggeration at all the very fate of this world, may still depend on how the breakdown and break-up of the American neo-empire is handled. Wars of re-division are especially not healthy for children etc.

7 - PS:

jch says:

Bottom line: reality is not a TV show.

I think reality is also a TV show.

Comment →
10-25

One pseudo-state calls forth another, as the goal of "mere control" constructs its own eventual failure, both logically and, it seems, practically.

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November11-03

Collectively as individually, we may also like to think that at the limits we will know the truly unacceptable loss of control when we see it, or are compelled to view it, but we may surprise ourselves with our ability to look away from or to grow used to what formerly we found unbearable, just the latest cadaverized child in a Twitpic.

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11-11

For the destruction of IS to occur without our aid and participation would be for us not just to have shirked a responsibility, but to have declined to assert our existence, to have absented ourselves from the course of events. The alternative for us to a world in which we helped to destroy IS would be for us an unjust and absurd world.

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2015May05-28

I won't attempt to characterize the diverse - or one might say combined and uneven - motivations of Kaplan's critics, but I doubt that their approach does as much to advance the discussion, or the potential of any interesting and useful discussion at all, as his does, or as it might in some other intellectual world under a different ideological regime.

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July07-03
November11-04
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