"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Buying Off the Bear

"It is a general rule of human nature that people despise those who treat them well, and look up to those who make no concessions."---Thucydides, c. 400 BCE

And that's the problem, as it has been since BCE: not history, not politics, but human nature. We of the touchy-feely West wish Thucydides were wrong. If only reason and good will could solve this. If only we could drop some Marshall Plan and a trillion or two on the Middle East and buy our way out of all this.

Even if the animosity between Middle East and the West is political, it is nearly 1400 years old, far beyond George W. Bush's or our own poor power to add or detract. And neither is Islam as a politics an easily reducible geographical problem, as it was when Charles Martel halted the advance of the Umayyad Caliphate into France in 732, or when the siege of Vienna by the Suleiman the Magnificent's Turks was finally lifted in 1529. (Yes, Islam as a politics got pretty damn far, and oh yeah, they came back on Vienna in 1683.)

Because in the semi-borderless flow of people to and fro in the 21st century, we cannot give political Islam want it wants. Which is everything.

The problem is no longer western imperialism, but that when Arab countries, the Arab street if you will, express themselves democratically, the results are enough to scare the bejesus out of any westerner, because they vote for Islamic authoritarianism and, frankly, war with the non-Muslim world.

This was the miscalculation of not just Bush and the neocons, but the West as a whole. We are largely materialists: we want peace, freedom, and prosperity.

But that apparently isn't what the "Arab street" wants, whether that street is in Karachi or London, and so, absent following Thucydides, we are left with trying to placate the implacable.

Our failure is in understanding the Muslim mind---peace and prosperity can only come with the "freedom" that is Islam, which means, literally, not "peace," but "submission." A fascinating philosophical dialogue between the West and Islam indicates that although the West has largely embraced Rousseau's rather rosy view of man and shunned Thomas Hobbes' view of human nature as craven and operating purely out of self-interest, Islam, even on the philosophical level, has not:

...the origin of the world “politics” gives us good insight into this difference. In Arabic the word siassa means “to care, to control.” On the other hand, for Anglo-Saxons, the word “politics” finds it origin in the Greek word polis (city), and means “to run a city.”

In the Muslim view, man, without guidance from the transcendent (that would be Allah, through the Qur'an, the only perfect rendering of the Divine Mind in human history), is no more than an animal, and that animal must be controlled. Shar'ia, the literal Law of God, is the only way it can be done. The best way to "lead us not into temptation" is to remove all temptation. Hence, the burka.

And so, per Thucydides, those who would compromise, who would treat those who transgress against God's Law well, surely do not possess Divine Truth. Only those who do not and cannot compromise with other men possess it. "Tolerance," which has been elevated to the highest of all virtues in the modern West, is the tool of the seducer, not of the righteous.

Whether or not we agree with Hobbes' view of man, it makes no difference---Muslims do. And to them, it is the Qur'an, and only the Qur'an, that makes man anything more than a mere beast. Tolerance, or "improving man's estate," the materialistic and self-declared goal of the western Enlightenment, has as much meaning to Islam as offering a quickie or a new washer-dryer to the bear that's about to eat you.

21 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"If only reason and good will could solve this. If only we could drop some Marshall Plan and a trillion or two on the Middle East and buy our way out of all this."

We can so long as our neo-marshall plan is accompanied by us stopping the things that are radicalizing them.

It will work, it has in the past and it will in the future if actually tried.

But so far our response (much like with crime/drugs) has been punitive for punishment's sake no matter how counterproductive that ends up being.

I can tell you exactly how to win your "war" on terrorism. But you may not like the answer. So would you rather fight full of righteous conviction and lose, or take the smart path and win?

Tlaloc said...

"Even if the animosity between Middle East and the West is political, it is nearly 1400 years old, far beyond George W. Bush's or our own poor power to add or detract."

No. The animosity of the distant past is over. It's purely the events of the 20th century that are driving our current problems.



"Because in the semi-borderless flow of people to and fro in the 21st century, we cannot give political Islam want it wants. Which is everything."

We also cannot take what we want, which is also everything. We have to find a compromise solution. How about we stop bothering them and they stop bothering us? That will work. Sure there will be some over there that hate us anyway just as there will still be some over here that hate them anyway. But if we disengage then the masses will frankly have other things to worry about.



"The problem is no longer western imperialism,"

Remind me again why that isn't a problem when we are busy setting up a colonial government in Iraq...



"This was the miscalculation of not just Bush and the neocons, but the West as a whole."

No, some of us predicted this quite well. I'll thank you not to lump everybody in with your particular mistakes.



"We are largely materialists: we want peace, freedom, and prosperity. But that apparently isn't what the "Arab street" wants,"

Of course it is. They just can't have it so long as the western powers are constantly harrassing them.

Devang said...

We will never know better than the population of a remote country and that's a hard pill to swallow. This seems more likely than not to be a generational problem and I say let them have elections. The whole lot, Egypt, Syria, Saudi (easier said than done I know, but we hate unfavorable-to-us outcomes enough to not allow them the happen at all even when they may be favorable to the population, that's the real elitism)... If the population really is that radical, you're absolutely right in saying we're trying to placate the implacable, though I don't believe things are so implacable. The choices are between Hezbollah's popping up everywhere to having fundamentalist governments which will hopefully moderate. Iran isn't an example to go by here and any more *hints* of further oppression will only make things worse.

The problem, like tlaloc said, is oppression left over from the imperial years (and i.e. the whole Shah of Iran thing) because there was oil in the middle east. Now though, the bear has no oil. I will treat the bear as if it has no oil. The bear misplaced the oil, and we'll just have to find something else. Silly bear. The bear has no oil. The bear has no oil....

Ok, now think of foreign policy.

Francis W. Porretto said...

"Give them everything" -- ? We can't give them anything. Islam is fanatically hostile to all competing ideologies, and sanctions any and all tactics against them. (It doesn't matter whether the competing ideologies are religious, secular, or political.) To concede anything to such a force is merely to hasten its advance.

Not long ago, Robert Spencer attracted the attention of a blogging Muslim named Amir. The exchange between them was unusual for its candor -- Amir's candor, that is, since Spencer has never equivocated or minced words. I wish everyone who allows himself an opinion on this matter would read that exchange, and reflect on what it implies for the opinions and preferences of the "moderate Muslims," who remain undetectable by the finest scientific instruments.

Tlaloc said...

"To concede anything to such a force is merely to hasten its advance."

No it isn't. Because the vast majority of the middle east are not fanatical muslims- they are people with legitimate grievances which lead them to follow fanatical muslims.

Giving them something may encourage the fanatics but a leader with no followers is no threat.

This is a fight over the perceptions of the every day arab (and persian, and kurd, and so on). We cannot win without winning the perceptions "race."

Tom Van Dyke said...

We shall leave Thucydides for now, and likely permanently, Mr. Devang, but I deeply appreciate your attempt to engage a portion of my arguments, although we are not yet there. Unless you wish to present arguments as to why Islamicism might be placable somewhat short of total submission by the West.

In that case, I'm all ears. I got nothin' here.

Tlaloc said...

"Unless you wish to present arguments as to why Islamicism might be placable somewhat short of total submission by the West.
In that case, I'm all ears. I got nothin' here."

All you'd have to do is scroll up.

Devang said...

Sharia isn't democratic, and Amir's verion (in Mr. Porretto's links) of Islam is filled with revisionist history. I think any muslim is perfectly capable of knowing the difference. That's what my muslim friends say and that's about as far as I am.

Iran is a problem, but Syria doesn't have to be. We know in country of 70 million, thousands can be brainwashed into doing anything. Even still, shine a light on a fanatic who may be a bible literalist, an extremist Hindu or an extremist Muslim and they still all look the same. I still see the problem as primarily bad external forces, muslim-extremists have been propped up by high oil prices, hangovers from imperialism, and non-existent economies because we've keep treating them as little more than piggy banks for petro-dollars. I would rather believe Robert Baer on this in Sleeping with the Devil, it's as simple as that.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Shar'ia is the literal Law of God. However, there can be democracy (councils) in interpreting it. This indeed is the hope.

You shall not accept any information, unless you verify it for yourself. I have given you the hearing, the eyesight, and the brain, and you are responsible for using them. Sura 17:36

Matt Huisman said...

No it isn't. Because the vast majority of the middle east are not fanatical muslims- they are people with legitimate grievances which lead them to follow fanatical muslims.

Gulp. I’m almost with you on this one, Tlaloc. I don’t believe that the vast majority of the Middle East is overly fanatical either, though I suspect that we would disagree on what would qualify as legitimate grievances and who should be blamed for them.

In my view, the situation is quite similar to Germany during the rise of the Nazis. I’m still a strong horse, weak horse guy, and see the attraction of the “street” to radical ideology based primarily on perceived strength and success. People under duress will gravitate towards whatever gives them some hope, even if they haven’t thought through all of the consequences. This is why many Christians were willing to support the Nazis, and why you now find some Sunnis supporting Hizbollah.

As for the nature of negotiations, concessions, etc. – it is here that I side with Thucydides and Brother Tom. One gladly grants concessions in order to gain favor and move toward a shared understanding of a mutually acceptable future. The trouble is that people have a way of misinterpreting the “root causes” of concessions. They tend to get a little more full of themselves, and end up coming back looking for more (assuming they hadn’t been looking for more in the first place). At that point, negotiations are no longer an option – and all that one is left with is…

Somewhere it says that Pride goeth before the Fall. Sadly, the hard fall is almost always the remedy necessary to reorient the proud – whether they be nations or men.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, you see where I'm going with this, Matt. The question isn't the legitimacy of grievances, but whether they can be adequately redressed in the Muslim mind. The answer is apparently no, or to put Thucydides another way, give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile.

As for the role of history, I'm convinced that the Battle of Tours will remain in the Muslim mind well after Saddam Hussein is dust in the wind.

Tlaloc said...

"though I suspect that we would disagree on what would qualify as legitimate grievances and who should be blamed for them."

It's a good bet :)



"People under duress will gravitate towards whatever gives them some hope"

Agreed, but that is precisely why it is in our best interest to stop putting them under duress!

Desperate people do crazy things. Take away what is making them desperate (or at least your contribution to it) and there is a lot less chance their crazy actions will impact you.



"The trouble is that people have a way of misinterpreting the “root causes” of concessions."

It doesn't matter. Literally, it makes no difference whether OBL gets why we pull troops out of the Middle East or not. What matters is how it impacts the guy on the street. If he's no longer ducking American firepower then he's no longer building up a big hatred for America. He may be dodging Syrian bullets instead. Fine let them hate Syria.

I'm certainly not hoping for a big shia sunni brouhaha but if thats the road they take, and we aren't involved in goading either side on, then so be it. We can;t make them make smart decisions, all we can do is let them make decisions for themselves.

So let them see it as a sign of American weakness. What does that hurt us? Not at all because they will fall to infighting so fast it'll make your head spin.



"Somewhere it says that Pride goeth before the Fall."

What nation on earth is more suffused of pride than the US? We maintain an illusion of military omnipotence. We maintain a superiority of culture such that we can and do interfere willy nilly across the globe. We dictate terms to every nation on the planet from our role of self appointed strong man.

We are the proud.

Tlaloc said...

"The question isn't the legitimacy of grievances, but whether they can be adequately redressed in the Muslim mind."

The wounds don't have to be redressed, all we have to do is stop poking at them. They have grievances, yes, but without our continual interference they will set those aside in favor of dealing with mor immediate problems.

tbmbuzz said...

Victor Davis Hanson nicely counters the tired, old blame-America-and-the-West-for-all-the-Middle-Eastern-Muslims' problems.

Tlaloc said...

Hanson has always beeen utterly incompetent in matter of the present. He might be a decent historian, don;t know, really don;t care. But he's the last person you should take as an expert on the current mess. example:

"But since Sept. 11, America has ensured democracy in Afghanistan, spent billions and over 2,500 lives fostering freedom in Iraq, pressured Syria to leave Lebanon, and lectured long-time allies in Egypt and the Gulf to reform. For all this, we are now considered crude interventionists, even when our efforts may well pave the way for radical Muslims to gain legitimacy through plebiscites."

The idiocy here should be obvious to anyone who has paid attention the last five years. A) we have razed Afghanistan allowing a collection of murdering warlords to take over, opium production to soar, and the Taliban are still around, any wonder that our intervention there isn;t met with rousing cheers?
B) Iraq we had every intention of making another autocratic endeafor (remember we only decided to allow them elections after the huge outcry when we tried to dset up a puppet government), and since then we have constantly interfered in that government, and that government has turned into just the flip side of the Hussein regime, same torture chambers same disappearances just now it's Shia oppressing Sunni, wow what a great contribution. Oh and we only had to kill a hundred thousand Iraqis to do it.
C) sure we pressured Syria to leave lebanon allowing thema fragile chance at self determination and then stood by and laughed as the Israelis sent that up in flames.
D) Oh yes we "lectured" Egypt to reform. How nice. Considering in their last election THE GOVERNMENT WAS ATTACKING VOTERS WITH MACHETES maybe something a tad more vocal than "lecturing" was advisable.

Seriously, Hanson is clueless. He's enamored of the he man testosterone responses that are going to make us lose. He should go back to writing about old greek wars, he might not be any more accurate there but at least no one cares.

Matt Huisman said...

What matters is how it impacts the guy on the street. If he's no longer ducking American firepower then he's no longer building up a big hatred for America.

The trouble is that we gain no points with the guy on the street for leaving. We're still the Great Satan, still guilty of infinite sins from the past, present and future - leaving now only changes which thug-of-the-week will claim responsibility for driving us out.

To be honest, the guy on the street really isn't all that interesting to me anymore. The insurgency develops after Saddam is gone?

If things are more desperate now, it's not because of us. I take that back, it's because no one believes that we are a credible force (like Saddam), and so they are willing to take their chances.

Tlaloc said...

"The trouble is that we gain no points with the guy on the street for leaving. We're still the Great Satan, still guilty of infinite sins from the past, present and future"

Your right but again that doesn;t matter. It isn't about scoring points it's about letting wounds heal. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a serious hatred. They won't be expending that energy if we aren't constantly giving them reasons to hate us anew.

Disengagement isn't about making them happy, it is about letting them get distracted by other things.



"To be honest, the guy on the street really isn't all that interesting to me anymore."

The guy on the street is where this will be won or lost, period. DO we manage to mold their perceptions or does Al Qaeda?



"The insurgency develops after Saddam is gone?"

I'm not clear what you are trying to say here.



"If things are more desperate now, it's not because of us."

I have to disagree. We keep kicking the hornets nest and are amazed that the swarm keeps getting bigger and angrier.

Matt Huisman said...

The guy on the street is where this will be won or lost, period. DO we manage to mold their perceptions or does Al Qaeda?

Good question. When we're not around, who goes to bat for us?

Answer: No one.

No matter what we say or do, whether we're there or not, we're the Great Satan. Billions in aid throughout the Middle East does nothing for us - anywhere. How does abandoning those who have agreed to sign on with us help overcome that reality?

I don't deny that the guy in the street is the ultimate goal, but right now we don't have many ways to get to him. What we can do is be consistent, destroy those who cause trouble, and then Marshall Plan them back to the future.

Matt Huisman said...

Ah, you see where I'm going with this, Matt.

Absolutley. And my statement that I don't believe that the Middle East is filled with overly fanatical Muslims does not detract from your point regarding Islam either. I agree that Islam is hostile towards competing ideologies - I just don't believe that most Muslims are that fanatical about Islam.

Religions that force mandatory compliance on their adherents usually end up with people who, in some sense, are just going through the motions.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What got lost in the usual flood of political boilerplate on current events was what I was actually trying to get at, which is the Muslim world's cultural view of man: partially about how they see us, but also how they see themselves.

I don't think I wrote anything particularly contentious or controversial. Or even pejorative. The Hobbesian view of man is in no way restricted to the Arab world, but is far less pervasive in the west. Most of the west, as the stepchildren of Rousseau, are as unaware of their own acculturation and assumptions as the Muslims probably are.

In such cases, people don't like their assumptions challenged, and shedding a little light is usually rewarded with a lot of heat, as we just proved here. What we want to give the Muslim world, they don't want, was my simple conclusion.

The depth of religious feeling in the Muslim world remains to be seen. I was nowhere near a consideration of that. However, 65 years ago, it was immaterial just how many Germans were really Nazis or Japanese were subscribers to the Bushido Code, and that is the worry.

Tlaloc said...

"Good question. When we're not around, who goes to bat for us?

Answer: No one."

Au contraire! Our most potent weapon is also the one most denigrated by conservatives: hollywood. The US produces the majority of all media seen throughout the world. That gives us a hige lever with which to move people everywhere toward a sympathetic view of us. And nobody dies.



"Billions in aid throughout the Middle East does nothing for us - anywhere."

Well gosh it bought peace between egypt and Israel. Isn't that something? Granted that was a heavy handed and crude use of the money but obviously it does in fact accomplish something.



"How does abandoning those who have agreed to sign on with us help overcome that reality?"

Well it helps us see the knife coming. Israel hasn't exactly been the most loyal of friends. They have in fact betrayed us left and right, killed our soldiers on at least one occasion, and operate a huge spying apparatus aimed at our government. With friends like that...



"What we can do is be consistent, destroy those who cause trouble, and then Marshall Plan them back to the future."

Destroy them how? Israel spent twenty yearsin Lebanon and couldn't destroy Hezbollah. We've spent three years in Iraq and the insurgency just keeps getting bigger. Six years in Afghanistan and both the Taliban and Osama are doing quite fine.

You need to admit that we cannot destroy this foe militarily, and we are getting suckered into a trap when we try.