"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

Name: The General
Location: Sacramento, California, United States


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Saturday, August 21, 2004
  Why Bush Can't Win War on "Terrorism"
Lawrence Auster has written a good article on the centrality of Jihad in Islam. The first half of the article is his support for this assertion (which is very good, incidentally), and the second covers his recommendations for what should be done in light of this connection.

In the second half he expresses his doubts about President Bush's efforts to "democratize" (more accurately, civilize) the Middle East. Having already noted how Jihad is essential to Islam (and also noting that Islam is the real problem in the Middle East, not "terrorism"), Auster names the fundamental solution to Militant Islam - the secularization of the Middle East:
...the democratic reform of Muslim societies requires their partial or complete secularization.

Having seen this fundamental (and almost never understood point), Auster then laments that this is the solution. Why? Is it because Islam is really a peaceful and progressive religion? No. He rejects it because
...if the secularization of Muslim societies becomes a guiding principle of our foreign policy, that would inevitably lead us to secularize our own society as well, which is the very last thing we need.

And thus he succinctly shows
  1. why Bush hasn't attacked Iran or Saudi Arabia (they'd have to be secularized) and
  2. therefore why Bush cannot win the war on "terrorism".

Terrorism is not a primary; it is a result ultimately of the philosophy or religion of the terrorist. If someone believes they have a mandate from God to achieve a given end, and that it is intrinsically good, then achieving that end takes precedence over everything else. As philosopher Ayn Rand wrote:
If a man believes that the good is intrinsic in certain actions, he will not hesitate to force others to perform them. If he believes that the human benefit or injury caused by such actions is of no significance, he will regard a sea of blood as of no significance. If he believes that the beneficiaries of such actions are irrelevant (or interchangeable), he will regard wholesale slaughter as his moral duty in the service of a "higher" good.

And thus if we are to defeat the "terrorists", we must stop the dissemination of their ideology. America did not just assassinate Adolf Hitler in World War II; we destroyed Germany and the Nazi ideology, because we understood that all the evil consequences sprang from those vile ideas. It is time we came to the same conclusion about Militant Islam. But Bush's own religious beliefs have paralyzed him from coming to this conclusion. For if it is wrong for Muslims to legislate their religion via the Shari'a, how is Bush to justify his own religious influence in our political system. As Mr. Auster seems to understand, to secularize the Middle East we would have to secularize ourselves, else we would be guilty of the very evil we were fighting.

And thus Bush will never be effective in this war. That is why we have not decisively crushed Muqtada Al Sadr. And that is why ultimately we will lose, if we don't return to the founding principles of this country, starting with the separation of Church and State. Only then can we effectively fight our enemy, who hates us and wants to kill us.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
  US Can't Read Sadr's Lips
Yahoo reports that the US government is having trouble discerning Moqtada Al Sadr's "real" motives. It's obvious - he wants to install a peaceful, representative and constitutional republic, with a separation of church and state!

The article then goes on to basically downplay Al Sadr as a viable political leader or candidate. I'm sure the same analysis would have been put even more cogently regarding a certain World War One veteran, who failed as an artist and hated Jews. His prospects were similarly quite minor - and look where he was able to take them. Al Sadr is a religious zealot who wants to create and head an Islamic State in Iraq. He and his followers need to be killed now, before they become any more effective or popular than they already have. Our indecision over the last year has only strengthened his support - he can declare, justifiably, that he has stood up to the invading infidels, and they backed off. This only encourages and aids those who would install a theocracy. It is time for decisive action. But the US needs to come out and admit that we don't need to guess what his true intentions are - he's already made that very clear, by his actions and the company he keeps (e.g., Iran).
  Podhoretz on World War IV
I just today finished reading Norman Podhoretz's essay World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win. In many ways it is a good article. Coverage of American appeasement towards the Middle East from Carter to the present is accurately covered and shown to have led to the present crisis we are now in. His coverage of the 4 Pillars of the Bush doctrine displays many of the proper principles that should be applied in foreign policy (now if we could only get Bush to consistently practice them...).

What I found wanting in the article was his coverage of the long term strategy, or more correctly, how to advance Middle Eastern society from the dark ages into the bosom of civilization. Podhoretz notes the doubts of those he dubs "realists" regarding such efforts:
they questioned the idea that democratization represented the best and perhaps even the only way to defeat militant Islam and the terrorism it was using as its main weapon against us. Bush had placed his bet on a belief in the universality of the desire for freedom and the prosperity that freedom brought with it. But what if he was wrong? What if the Middle East was incapable of democratization? What if the peoples of that region did not wish to be as free and as prosperous as we were? And what if Islam as a religion was by its very nature incompatible with democracy?

While bowing to the validity of those asking such questions (which certainly are relevant), Podhoretz expresses his own "set of doubts about the doubts of the realists". He points out that the Arab dictatorships we are faced with today weren't created in the 7th century; they are relatively modern, having only existed since the end of WWI, when the British and French arbitrarily drew up new maps. As he puts it, "the miserable despotisms there had not evolved through some inexorable historical process powered entirely by internal cultural forces". While this certainly is true on the face of it, it overlooks the fact that the Middle East for the most part has known nothing but dictatorship for the last 1000 years. The fact that the French and British handed different groups to different dictators certainly didn't help matters, but it certainly wasn't equivalent to handing Alaska to Soviet Russia or Hawaii to Imperial Japan.

Continuing on, Podhoretz expresses more doubts, which point to the crux of the problem with his article:
Mindful of this history, we backers of the Bush Doctrine wondered why it should have been taken as axiomatic that these states would and/or should last forever in their present forms, and why the political configuration of the Middle East should be eternally immune from the democratizing forces that had been sweeping the rest of the world.

And we wondered, too, whether it could really be true that Muslims were so different from most of their fellow human beings that they liked being pushed around and repressed and beaten and killed by thugs—even if the thugs wore clerical garb or went around quoting from the Quran. We wondered whether Muslims really preferred being poor and hungry and ill-housed to enjoying the comforts and conveniences that we in the West took so totally for granted that we no longer remembered to be grateful for them. And we wondered why, if all this were the case, there had been so great an outburst of relief and happiness among the people of Kabul after we drove out their Taliban oppressors.

Podhoretz is unable to see why Middle East Dictatorships could remain "forever in their present forms" because he doesn't explicitly identify the fact that civilization is not possible while the veil of religious dogma and tyranny controls a culture. History has given us dramatic examples: In our own history, we need only look at the period we know as the dark ages, when religious dogma reigned supreme, and then to contrast that with Renaissance and the nation it gave birth to, the USA. And today we need only look at the Middle East, to see how unmitigated religion and tyranny have left a culture in the throws of rigarmortis for a thousand years. Podhoretz is not alone in his failure to see Islam as the problem. This has been President Bush's problem as well, ever since he warmly received the prayers of Muslims after 9/11. People in the Middle East are not inherently different than those in West; those that have immigrated and assimilated here belie that idea eloquently. But until they choose to value reason, freedom, science and secularism over religious dogma and the Islamic state, they are as different from us as night is from day. There is no inbuilt, universal desire for freedom, especially when you have a religion and society which desires a society of "virtue" over and above a free society. (and in all fairness, Bush is not the epitome of freedom, with his dogmatic opposition to abortion and stem cell research). There is no compromising with those who seek to impose their religion on us; if they refuse to deal with others by reason and resort to force, then we have no choice but to respect their choice, and treat them like the savage animals they have become.

If the Middle East is ever to advance out of the dungeon it currently resides in, it must start where America did over 200 years ago - with a man's inalienable rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
  Faith and Terror
Sam Harris had an excellent op-ed in Sundays LA Times. Holy Terror starts out by questioning the reliability and relevance of religious texts to modern problems:
Consider the subject of stem-cell research. Many religious people, drawing from what they've heard from the pulpit, believe that 3-day-old embryos — which are microscopic collections of 150 cells the size of a pinhead — are fully endowed with human souls and, therefore, must be protected as people. But if we know anything at all about the neurology of sensory perception, we know that there is no reason to believe that embryos at this stage of development have the capacity to sense pain, to suffer or to experience death in any way at all. (There are, for comparison's sake, 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly.)

I can only say, AMEN! Continuing on the relevance of his theme to the war on "terror", Harris writes:
The phrase "the war on terrorism" is a dangerous euphemism that obscures the true cause of our troubles, because we are currently at war with precisely a vision of life presented to Muslims in the Koran. Anyone who reads this text will find non-Muslims vilified on nearly every page. How can we possibly expect devout Muslims to happily share power with "the friends of Satan"? Why did 19 well-educated, middle-class men trade their lives for the privilege of killing thousands of our neighbors? Because they believed, on the authority of the Koran, that they would go straight to paradise for doing so.

While there are some questionable assertions in the piece, they do not detract from the overall theme: consistent faith in ancient texts is unjustifiable at best, and downright dangerous at worst.

As one prayer was stated after 9/11: God, save me from the people who believe in you!
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
  Guns Interrupted - By Morality
Ralph Peter's new op-ed column Guns Interrupted gives a succinct summary of our failure to do what is necessary to remove Al-Sadr. Highlighting the fact that we have continually approached the "edge of victory", Peters criticizes our lack of will to finish the fight. The blame for this rests with the policy of the Bush administration:
The new American way of war is to quit on the edge of victory.

This really isn't hard to figure out: When we fail to win fast, we lose. Our military is slowly digesting the lesson, but our political leaders ignore the truth entirely. They don't want "excessive" casualties or collateral damage. So we dither. And, over months and years, the casualties and damage soar beyond what a swift victory would have cost.

and later
If we cannot fight to win, we're foolish to spend our soldiers' blood for nothing. If Iraq lacks the will to save itself, our troops won't be able to save it. And then there is the bogus issue of mosques, which our leaders approach with superstition, not sense. While Najaf's Imam Ali shrine truly is a sacred place, the fact is that there are mosques and there are mosques.

Peters is right, that if we aren't fighting for victory, we shouldn't fight at all. He laments that our leaders approach the issue of Mosques with "superstition, not sense". But what is sense in this case? If we admit the Mosque is a holy place, that should not be violated, then we have accepted the enemy's moral premise - we who would shell to stop the militants are the violators. Our moral cowardice is perfectly captured in the cartoon "Sensitive War" from Cox and Forkum
Sensitive War

Sense in this context means that we do not consider any building, whether a kindergarten classroom or a "holy" Mosque to be outside the jurisdiction of war. As John Lewis so eloquently put it in his article House of God, House of War:

The only way to protect Americans--and, coincidentally, good Iraqis--is to bomb the Najaf mosque into a parking lot, and to announce that any building used for such purposes gets the same treatment.

But in order for us to take such action, we need to uphold the morality of selfishness, and our right of self-defense. As long as we believe in sacrifice as a moral ideal, we will never feel justified in taking the selfish action of defending ourselves. We must believe in the righteousness of our cause, and assign the blame for destruction of the Mosque where it truly belongs - with those who turned it into a battleground. There is nothing intrinsically holy about a Mosque or a church, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with demolishing them. When people choose to use them as a base of operations to fight us, they are legitimate targets, and should be destroyed. This would end forever the absurdity of trying to kill the militants while simultaneously striving to preserve the mosque. The reductio ad absurdum of this idea would be to have one set of soldiers shooting at the militants whilst another group systematically patches up any damage done to the mosque.

What Al-Sadr represents for the US concretely is George Bush's failure to understand the nature of the fight - we are not fighting against terrorists, we are fighting against the ideology of Islamism. By pretending that anyone associated with Islam is somehow holy and innocent, we have left ourselves wide open to attack. Those who want to be Muslims in peace are not our enemies; but those who would try to force Islam on others (including ourselves) are. We should kill the latter, and do our best to protect and support the former.
  Good Article on Dealing With Al-Sadr
John Lewis has just written a prescient article on what needs to be done about Muqtada Al-Sadr and his ilk. Lewis points out the fact that many "mainstream" Muslims support the radicals we are fighting, and in fact are in agreement with them. He ends with a strategic solution to the problem in Najaf. Here's a delightful tidbit:
It is long past the time for Americans to admit the truth. The totalitarian radicals have support from mainstream Muslims. Many condemn the investigations into America's enemies rather than assist the investigations. Many think that supporting Islamic fighters financially is not really that bad. Many clerics and thousands of their followers do not oppose the use of mosques as military bases. Many see their religion as compatible with aggressive warfare, even if they do not actually take up arms.

The only way to protect Americans--and, coincidentally, good Iraqis--is to bomb the Najaf mosque into a parking lot, and to announce that any building used for such purposes gets the same treatment. They chose to use their House of God as a House of War. The marching crowds agree. Admit the facts, and act accordingly. Continue aggressive investigations into mosques in America. And let those who will condemn the Americans choose their side openly.
Monday, August 16, 2004
  Cox and Forkum
For al-Sadr?
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