Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Military Strategy for Dummies

Have you noticed that our nation is chock full of armchair military strategists? Everyone seems to have an opinion about the war: At the highest level of generalization are statements such as -- “Our current policies have been a disaster” -- to which I reply with equal perspicacity and nuance: Says who?

It’s hard to find a coherent strategy from any national Democrat (excepting Joe Lieberman) but they have in common a commitment to discrediting the war and accepting defeat. The House passed legislation last week, with 95 percent of Democrats voting in favor, requiring that the United States withdraw most combat troops from Iraq by April 1, 2008. The jist of their argument is that we need to step out of the way of the sectarian strife and let the Sunnis and Shiites battle it out. Little thought is given to the slaughter that would ensue; even less to the effect this action might have on U.S. security and prosperity, never mind the rest of the world.

Armchair strategists have even suggested that allowing Iran to support the Shias would be a way to insure victory over the Sunni militias and their al Qaeda friends. Now there are reports (with videos) of a field in Iraq containing 50 Iranian-made rocket launchers, all aimed at a
US army base. But hey, we ought to trust the Iranians, just like Jimmy Carter did.

To attempt a rational conversation about the war it is important to have a realistic perspective of our goals and objectives. After 9/11 it was obvious that our decades-long strategy of siding with brutal dictators in the Middle East, while ignoring an occasional attack on American interests, was both absurd and immoral. President Bush took aim at two of the bad actors in the Islamic world when we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. The goals were to overthrow the dangerous Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes and to establish governments that would cease to be breeders and sponsors of terrorism.

It was clear that dictators and elements of Islamic religious law that stand in the way of personal freedom and religious tolerance breed discontent. Thus the governments we are attempting to establish are based on core democratic principles including free elections and basic individual rights.

Remember, terrorism is the third attack on Western civilization by radical Islam. To deal with terrorism, units of our armed forces are in 30+ countries around the world hunting down terrorist groups and dealing with them. This gets very little publicity. People can argue about whether the war in Iraq is right or wrong, but they should be clear about our strategy -- to remove the radicals from power and give the moderates a chance. We are demonstrating to the Islamic world that (1) America will not tolerate attacks on our people or interests and (2) freedom is the way to personal prosperity and happiness and acceptance into the league of respected nations. Our hope is that, over time, the moderates will find a way to bring Islam forward into the 21st century. It will take time and we must continue our effort. We cannot just pull out and let chaos take our place.

Aside from the political and humanitarian consequences, we must stay the course because we are an honorable nation that went to war for honorable reasons. The just-war philosophy rests on three principles: ius ad bellum, ius in bello and ius ad pacem: “war-decision law” and “war-conduct law” and “war into peace law.” In the words of James Turner Johnson, the foremost historian of the just-war tradition: “Just war in the age of global jihadist terrorism is not simply about the right, even the obligation, to use armed force to protect ourselves, our societies, and the values we cherish; it is not only about how we should fight in this cause; it is ultimately about the peace we seek to establish in contrast to the war the terrorists have set in motion. We are, as Augustine put it, to ‘be peaceful . . . in warring,’ that is, to keep the aim of peace first and foremost, and not only to ‘vanquish those whom you war against’ but also to ‘bring them to the prosperity of peace.’ . . . The ideal expressed in the just war tradition . . . is an ideal in which the use of force serves . . . to create peace. This is a purpose that must not be forgotten.”

This perspective is elaborated by George Weigel in the April, 2007 issue of First Things magazine. (http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=5465)

And please don’t fall into the trap of believing that if only we weren’t in the Middle East peace would prevail. In the age of globalization the Western way of life is all too apparent to the peoples of the Islamic world. The masses love our freedom and prosperity but it is messing with their social constructs by empowering women, tolerating gays, respecting other religions. The radicals among in Islam, many educated men, find this social change intolerable and are willing to fight to destroy modernization, and us with it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday America

I am the flag of the United States of America. My name is Old Glory.
I stand for peace, honor, truth and justice. I stand for freedom.
I am confident. I am proud.

Listen to Elvis sing “America the Beautiful” while you read this post.

On the way to the Palos Verdes Estates “Old fashioned Fourth of July” party, I stopped at Starbucks for my daily latte (grande, no foam, single-shot). Good friend Rori Roje said “Oh, you’re going to see Mayberry RFD meets The Rich and the Famous.” Rori was half right.

The PVE event was celebrating its forty-sixth year and it looked and felt like small town, mid-America transplanted to the gorgeous Pacific coast. Guests were treated to music by the Unabridged Big Band, to a stunning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by Shauna Steiner Torok, recognition of all the military services, an apple pie contest (the top two finishers were men!), a patriotic bike parade, a puppet show and face painting and awards for children essayists, Americanism (De De Hicks), volunteerism (Josh Liu) and the Norris Heritage of Freedom Award to noted historian and keynote speaker Kevin Starr.

De De Hicks spoke with heartfelt passion about what it means to be an American. She told us about the neighbor’s house she saw burn to the ground when she was only eight and how, by the end of the next day, the family was re-supplied with everything they needed to live from the generosity of the community. Experiences like that helped to mold De De’s volunteer spirit, a spirit she sees in abundance in America, “the greatest country in the whole wide universe!!”

Kevin Starr (CA Librarian Emeritus) is the author of a multi-volume series on the history of California, collectively called “America and the California Dream.” The most recent edition is The Coast of Dreams (2004), a concise cultural history of California since 1990. In 2006 Starr was awarded a National Humanities Medal. Starr opened with a reminiscence of his time at the White House when he received the Humanities Medal from President Bush. He contrasted the classical Greek architecture of the White House with the Mediteranian architecture of Malaga Cove in PVE. Yet, for all the thousands of miles between us, we are all one country, “from sea to shining sea.” He talked at length and with wonderful detail about the Westward movement and the incorporation of California into the Union. He asked the founding fathers and mothers to join us in this day of celebration.

It reminded me of what is sadly slipping away in much of America: a deep and abiding sense of the cultural history of our great nation. Dennis Prager calls for a July Fourth seder. “Perhaps the major reason Jews have been able to keep their national identity alive for 3,000 years, the last 2,000 of which were nearly all spent dispersed among other nations, is ritual. National memory dies without national ritual. And without a national memory, a nation dies. That is the secret at the heart of the Jewish people's survival that the American people must learn if they are to survive.

“When Jews gather at the Passover Seder they recount the exodus from Egypt, an event that occurred 3,200 years ago, as if it happened to them. That has to be the motto of the July Fourth Seder. We all have to retell the story in as much detail as possible and to regard ourselves as if we were present at the nation's founding in 1776.”

As parents and grandparents we need to see to it that the history and values of our great country are taught and are cherished by our kids and grandkids. I saw an example of that in Malaga Cove today. As the great social theorist Alexis de Tocqueville commented long ago in Democracy in America, “the village or township is the only association which is so perfectly natural that, wherever a number of men are collected, it seems to constitute itself.” That perfectly natural township is alive and well on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Intellectual PM versus the Islamic Fanatics

When news broke of the attempted car bombings in London and the SUV explosion in Glasgow airport, the British media immediately posited the question of the new Prime Minister’s resoluteness. The somber Gordon Brown appeared briefly on national television from 10 Downing Street late Saturday. “I want all British people to be vigilant and I want them to support the police and all the authorities in the difficult decisions that they have to make,” he said. “I know that the British people will stand together, united, resolute and strong.” Clearly the terrorists were testing the new Prime Minister and trying to influence his policies. Will they be successful?

By now we know that the Islamic terrorists were all connected to the medical profession, as many as six of them being doctors. They were not impoverished youths lashing out at an unfair socio-economic structure. Friend Phil Clark wrote that “the arrests of physicians/medical students in the UK underscores the degree to which we Westerner's are wrong in estimating that the threat would not come from educated professionals, and further shows how ineffective assumed assimilation is as a protection.”

Western Alliance friend Pappy opined that Dr. Mohammed Asha was “doing his best to help spread the flames of socialized medicine. The bombs failed to go off because, just like socialized medicine, there was a waiting period.”

Christopher Hitchens (“Don’t Mince Words”) observes that “we were warned for years of the danger, by Britons of Asian descent such as Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali and Salman Rushdie. They knew what the village mullahs looked like and sounded like, and they said as much.” More recently British Channel Four's
Undercover Mosque and Christiane Amanpour’s CNN Special Investigations Unit showcased British Muslim fanatics who came right out with their program. “Straight into the camera, leading figures like Anjem Choudary spoke of their love for Osama Bin Laden and their explicit rejection of any definition of Islam as a religion of peace. On tape or in person, mullahs in prominent British mosques called for the killing of Indians and Jews.”

What is even more sinister, Hitchens notes that the car bomb was parked outside a club in Piccadilly on ladies night and that “this explosion might have been designed to lure people into the street, the better to be burned and shredded by the succeeding explosion from the second car-borne cargo of gasoline and nails. The murderers did not just want body parts in general but female body parts in particular.”

An ABC news report on June 18 described large teams of newly trained suicide bombers who are being sent to the United States and Europe, according to evidence contained on a new videotape. Teams assigned to carry out attacks in Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Germany were introduced at an al Qaeda/Taliban training camp graduation ceremony held June 9.

We will have to wait to see how militantly the British authorities take the rising threat level. And what about Gordon Brown? A recent piece (“An Intellectual in Power”) by John Lloyd in Prospect magazine gives cause for optimism. Although known as an intellectual, “Brown has a kind of contempt for pure intellectuals,” says an aide. “He has little use for those for whom ideas are everything. He reads and talks and thinks with practice in mind.”

Brown’s intellectual appetites are more catholic than his political image implies. “He has really moved away from a social democratic position on the economy. He is pretty much a market liberal,” says another adviser. He is a fan of globalization, his favorite book being Why Globalization Works by Martin Wolf. He reads big books like Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy, Timothy Garton Ash's Free World and Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilisations. Brown has an appreciation for the threats facing Western Civilization.

Brown has recently been giving speeches and writing articles on Britishness. He adheres to the view of Linda Colley (Britons) that Britain is “an invented nation, united by a broadly Protestant culture.” It sounds a lot like Seymour Martin Lipsett’s American Exceptionalism. (“He's fascinated by the US's ability to ground itself in writing and image, in a way we can't.”) Brown’s British Council lecture Britishness (July, 2004) roused a patriotism which in the British was real, deep and popular.

In his recently published book, Courage: Eight Portraits, the new prime minister celebrates individuals who were called upon to show courage in face of great danger or injustice, and who rose, in differing ways, magnificently. “There are good reasons” he writes, “why I believe we continue to immortalise them… because we believe that the concept of courage says something about us and the best in us.”

Brown senses a threat of a moral breakdown at both the individual and the social level in Britain. (Our Culture, What’s Left of It by Theodore Dalrymple) “The modern left, especially since the 1960s, has been often scornful of a morality it regarded as bourgeois, and even while calling for extreme forms of collectivism has in practice endorsed much of the libertarian individualism of contemporary consumerism.”

Brown has invited conservative political scientist James Q Wilson and philosopher Gertrude Himmelfarb -- both American -- to give seminars at No 10 Downing Street. In The Moral Sense (1993), Wilson argues that “the indulgence, cruelty and violence that are now a familiar part of life have been the fault of those who too weakly, or apologetically, maintain moral-social limits.” Himmelfarb, a historian of ideas, sees in the work of “David Hume, Adam Smith and others the same kind of search as that in which Brown is said to be engaged: a quest for a robust social morality.”

Thus far, I see Gordon Brown as a worthy successor of Tony Blair, perhaps even more American than the long time Labour leader. Thus far, I like the cut of his jib.