Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Confused US in the Middle East

Editor's note: I am moving over to the other blog(also see new articles below).
Feb 14, 2007

Loss of US prestige as a super power and its growing image of being an anti-democratic, anti-Islamic regime are increasingly damaging for the Bush administration, argues Abdul Ruff Colachal.

Energy resources -- and not democratic issues -- constitute the focus of US foreign policy, especially in West Asia today. The United States, the most influential power in the world with which countries across the continents seek strategic partnership, is also the most worried nation today because of aggressive foreign policy of an arrogant President leading a failed anti-terror war in Middle East to control its vast energy resources. The horrors of "anti-terror wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq have once again reminded the Americans of earlier US failures. George W. Bush unveiled a new military strategy of enhancement and now is being routinely condemned as one of the worst Presidents ever and his Iraq policy no longer enjoys the support of a large swathe of the American establishment.

Cruel killing of Saddam did cause a slur on the format of the US diplomacy once hailed as genius when the former President Ford withdrew the US forces from Vietnam. Neither the assassination of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein without fair trial, nor the backlashes of invasions of Islamic nations in recent times have made President Bush to change the course of US policy. President Bush, a supporter of neoconservative line of thinking, is still reluctant to revise his views on US national interest, in spite of a weakening US power and influence as well as domestic anger against the US-led war in Middle East.

The situation in West Asia demands immediate corrective steps to rescue the USA from the hostile battle fields. Relegation of diplomatic efforts to sidelines pushed President Bush to be one of the most worried men on the earth today, and the USA itself feels let down by its responsible leaders. By displaying arrogance through their external pursuits in many parts of the world, President Bush and advisers have brought even the USA to the brim of disorder. The war on terror has tarnished the image of the world’s only super power. The so-called liberators have assumed the role of occupiers in Middle East.

Following debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan, the neo-conservatives, like President Bush in world arena, suddenly did find themselves isolated and embattled and were confined to the sidelines. A confused US President directed his forces to Somalia killing innocent civilians in searching for the so-called suspected terrorists. This explains the nature of aggressive foreign as well as the pro-rich domestic policy, including tax cuts regime of the Bush administration. Obviously, the neoconservatives with almost full sway over the decisions of President Bush just don’t permit that to happen.

The Republican Party's rule in USA owes much to the neocons for their opinion of "containment" and wars in its external behavior and well being of the well-to-do on domestic scene. The die hard neocons decline to reckon that the failed US foreign policy doctrines ended up in a sort of confused militarism and useless diplomacy that has marked its dealings with North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia. If the main justification for Nixon's Vietnam War was to prevent the spread of communism, the U.S. defeat then did not prove that point. The war reversals in 1970s made President Ford to flee disgracefully, restrained the USA from stretching itself too far and wide beyond its capacity and thus USA disengaged itself from the world affairs until the collapse of the USSR. End of Cold war, however, rekindled the US desire to showcase its military superiority in action. The neoconservatives hatched plans for "regime change" in West Asia. But actually, precisely for energy and economic reasons the Middle East remains one of the main areas, where the USA has focused its attention requiring military conflicts.

As the neocons misread global trends, President Bush has clearly overlooked the Vietnam experience of the USA and continued invasions and threatening postures causing misunderstanding with its other Western partners. The resultant failure of US aggressive policy in West Asia seems to have created embarrassment for the US-European relations as well. The Bush administration's embrace of unilateralism not only provoked the Iraq-Afghanistan disaster but also hastened American decline. The policy failure in Middle East could also signal decline the case globally as well. Tragic murder of Saddam has complicated US relations with European states, France and UK in particular, while. China and Russia had opposed the ghastly killing. Switch over to Somalia or the tactics of threatening Iran is no solution for current failures and that cannot save President Bush in any way.

The neo-conservatives under Bush believed that the world was ripe for a huge expansion of American power and influence. The CIA and Pentagon networks charted plans of subduing the world by employing concepts like democracy, regime change, WMD, axis of evil, etc. Threat perceptions generated by the CIA-Pentagon network kept the NATO ties fairly intact. And the world is being terrorised. US double speak on disarmament has generated enough suspicion in the world, but Washington went ahead with strengthening its power the world over. This in turn resulted in the US led forces occupying the countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. But now the forces are unable either to quit or to annex them as many other countries have done under similar situations in the past. The arrival of the new UN chief, Ban Ki Moon has not made any shift in US policy in West Asia, but only encouraged the Pentagon to pursue its destructive external policies.

Neoconservatives, therefore, don't do nuance. Their position is crystal clear: what is happening in the Middle East is an Islamist-Israeli war, part of the wider conflict between Islamist "totalitarianism" and liberal "democracy" and moderate Islam. To fight this war, the US has to confront not just terrorist networks but the states that are anti-American.That all anti-Islamic forces should be fighting against Islamic nations that are anti-US/Israel. Thus, Israel is dealing with Hamas and Hezbollah, so America should be going after Syria and Iran, which are Israel's enemies but also the enemies of the US. Accordingly, the US should, as soon as possible, launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, which would weaken the regime and put the country on the road to regime change.

Neocons make no concessions on that account and they want the Bush administration to do what they dictate. Loss of US prestige as a super power and growing image of being an anti-democratic, anti-Islamic regime are increasingly damaging for the Bush administration. The neocons guide the policy formulations of the Bush administration. Active, shuttle and aggressive diplomacy by USA to garner support of the Arabs for its Iran invasion having failed miserably, the Americans have reasons to believe that the Bush administration would rest finally. No, the neocons believe that the United States should not be ashamed to use its unrivaled power – forcefully if necessary – to promote its values around the world. Some even speak of the need to cultivate a US empire. Neoconservatives believe modern threats facing the US can no longer be reliably contained and therefore must be prevented, sometimes through preemptive military action. Ideology of neocons has remained the basics of philosophy of the Republican Party and has strong supporter in CIA, the Pentagon and the US government.

However, the Bush administration creates the impression that the President deviates from the neocons and executes only the moderated version of the extreme position taken by them who argue for quick invasion of Iran for controlling its energy resources before Russia might get through with the OPEC version of Gas regime. Even with opposition of the democrats to his Middle East policy, Mr. Bush still avoids moving towards the Iraq Study Group (ISG) position and go for, albeit gradual, withdrawal of troops. The plan by the USA-Israel combine to invade Iran would further seek terrible consequences for US. Both the Democrats and Republicans increasingly project US supremacy as the main goals in world politics .His double game only strengthens the neocons’ position of invading Iran as quickly as possible.

History of the USA has not taught Bush any serious lessons as he is still keen to invade Iran, by ignoring the key recommendations of the ISG report to involve Iran and Syria in any Iraqi settlement, including the return of the Golan Heights to Syria and to seek a new agreement between Israel and Palestine are still under vague scrutiny of the Bush administration. G.W. Bush cannot in fact help establish any New Middle East or collective global security. A reckless leader can lead his country to terrible destiny. Apart from US-Israel-UK nexus, most of the economic powers might still accept joint operations against select Islamic nations world wide. Unlike President Ford who gracefully retreated from a dangerous Vietnam War to save US prestige from further erosion, President Bush with his refusal to withdraw forces even after the poll reversals as well as a resistant Congress, has brought the US to the verge of being an insulted nation. The Democrats find it extremely torturous to defend the Bush strategy in West Asia and refuse to cooperate to send extra troops to Iraq.

USA is against a multi-polar world. Unipolarity suits USA to advance its global interests. By shelving unilateralism, the USA would have to share its influence with regional powers like Russia, China and the EU, Iran, India and Syria, but by continuing the confrontational policy, the Pentagon would advance its national interest. Both Russia and China stipulate that the US must act according to the UN rules. Sharing energy resources in Central Asia cannot be replicated in this explosive Middle East region any more. Such a scenario may well mean that the key alliance that has shaped the Middle East since 1956 between USA and Israel under UK mediation could even be increasingly downgraded and, if Iran is invaded, would ultimately be destroyed, besides its devastating consequences for US and Israel.

Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal is a Research Scholar at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Persecuting Putin

Posted by Daniel Larison on February 14, 2007

Since his rise to the Russian presidency in late 1999, Vladimir Putin has represented to the Western media and political class an infuriating obstacle that needs to be removed and a kind of politics that they regard as utterly abhorrent. Increasingly savage criticisms of Putin and his regime have over the past 4-5 years flooded the pages of a certain kind of putatively conservative magazine and newspaper—periodicals which evinced little interest in Russia when it was being misgoverned by the inebriated Boris Yeltsin, and looted by the Communist kleptocrats he put in charge of “privatizing” (i.e. confiscating) its massive state enterprises.

The new preoccupation with how well Russia is being governed, and how freely its smaller political parties can express their opinions is relatively new—and, I would argue has little or nothing to do with any particular concern about Putin’s heavy-handed and admittedly increasingly populist-authoritarian rule. Writers really concerned about human rights have much more serious matters with which to concern themselves than the fortunes of a few imprisoned or otherwise thwarted oligarchs—whose Swiss bank accounts are stuffed with money stolen from Russia’s citizens, monies they use to fund “opposition” movements which are little more than front-groups working for special interests. One hears little from such writers about the virtual genocide in Darfur or the persecution of Christians in China—much more atrocious abuses by far more reprehensible regimes.

Then what is it that motivates the new “Russia hawks” who populate the British and American press with grim warnings of the “threat” posed by an allegedly resurgent Russian bear? There are several factors at work, I would argue. In no particular order, I would cite:

• A lingering post-Cold War suspicion of Russia.
• A not-so-latent Russophobia cultivated in America and in most Western European countries.
• The geostrategic designs of proponents of activist foreign policy in the United States.
• The schemes treasured by Europeans who wish to expand the social democratic project of the European Union eastwards to the Urals.

Media objections to the moves by Putin against billionaire oligarch Khodorkovsky and his oil company, Yukos—to take one famous example, did not center on whether they were damaging Russia or retarding her development (though they might be)—but that Putin’s moves were making the Russian state strong and capable of resisting the preferred policies of his critics.

Something that became perfectly clear early on to most Russians was that Western backers of privatization, liberalization and “reform” and their Russian counterparts were supremely uninterested in the well-being of Russia and Russians. Rather, like the transnational elites in the West who were supporting these policies and whose example Russian “liberals” sought to follow, the “reformers” desired to exploit Russian resources in the name of abstract “growth” that never included reinvestment and real development of any part of the Russian economy. The insidious and self-serving collaboration between the oligarchs who raped Russia during the ‘90s under the guise of “privatization” and the proponents of Russian liberalism (or, more often, the advocacy of “liberal democratic” reforms by the oligarchs themselves) had two goals:

• To diffuse political power away from the center, which would work to the advantage of the oligarchs’ building up their own fiefdoms free from central interference.
• To conceal the predatory and criminal practices of men who are scarcely better than mobsters under the sacred mantle of “the free market,” whose attempted regulation would automatically be denounced as a return to the bad old days of the USSR.

Because a relatively strong, assertive Russia poses an unacceptable threat to the ability of Washington and Brussels to dominate their desired spheres of influence in post-Soviet space, every policy from Moscow that appears to advance the interests of such a relatively strong Russia is viewed as hostile in Western capitals and receives almost unremittingly negative coverage in the Western press. The anti-Russian view, as a matter of U.S. foreign policy, enjoys a wide range of bipartisan support (as do most of the positions tied up with current American aggressive interventionist foreign policy).

This is true even of politicians whose views are otherwise largely admirable—captive as many of them are to the neoconservative fantasy that all the earth must be remade along American lines. Think of former Sen. Rick Santorum, who routinely listed Russia on his list of America’s enemies—alongside North Korea, Iran and Venezuela during his pretentious “gathering storm” speaking tour and afterwards. Earlier this year, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden (D-DE), stated bluntly that he believed President Bush should have a “direct confrontation” with Putin over his international consolidation of power. Rather than being examples of extreme or unrepresentative fringes in their thinking about U.S. foreign policy, Santorum and Biden represent different parts of what is very much a consensus view about the Russian government. Ideologues who imagine that U.S. foreign policy should (or could) serve to democratize the planet and spread “American values” work together with cold-eyed nationalists who seek to ensure that that the U.S. remains the unchallenged, single superpower in the world—a goal which was frankly admitted in the infamous 2002 National Security Strategy. Members of each group share a common antipathy to Putin’s Russia because it represents one of the single greatest barriers and potential threats to their goals.

Every action undertaken by the Putin regime, whether at home or abroad, has been fitted into a pessimistic narrative of the re-freezing of Russo-American relations and revived geopolitical rivalry, and this narrative has served as a self-fulfilling prophecy as it has poisoned American and European minds against Russia. Every apparent reaction against Putin at home or in Russia’s near-abroad in the former Soviet republics has been hailed by the Western press and Western political leaders as evidence of “pro-Western,” “liberal,” “democratic” and “capitalist” resistance against resurgent authoritarian statism.

It is for this reason that the appalling, corrupt nationalist, Viktor Yushchenko, whose bigoted supporters make Bolivian President Evo Morales’ voters appear liberal and cosmopolitan, was made into a hero and near-martyr of liberal democracy in Ukraine during the so-called “Orange Revolution.” Looking at the politics of the leading members of the 2004 Orange coalition, it would have been more accurate to call it a red-brown revolution.

As this supposed resistance has weakened or disappeared in the past two years with the collapse of the Orange governing coalition over Yushchenko’s appointment of his former rival, Yanukovych, to be prime minister, and the economic and political isolation of Saakashvili’s Georgia last year, Western scrutiny and criticism of the Putin regime have increased—as if to take up the slack. 2006 saw a number of events in Russia or in some way related to Russia that Western journalists, pundits and politicians have used to increase suspicion of the Putin regime and force Russia into increased isolation from and opposition to the West, such as Moscow’s recent decision to off gas supplies to Belarus>(and, thus, to countries farther west as well), its embargo imposed on Georgia, the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the radiation poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. The exploitation of these events to fan the flames of anti-Russian sentiment (and thus encourage an equally irrational anti-Western backlash in Russia) serves the interests of neither country. However, it certainly does conform very well to the policy aspirations of different interested parties in the West that would like to see Russia cut off, cornered and on the defensive.

The most well-known of those recent episodes was the radiation poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB operative and long-time Putin critic with ties to the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Posing as an independent journalist, Litvinenko helped propagate Berezovsky’s fairly outlandish tale that the Moscow apartment bombings of September 1999, which the Russian government blamed on Chechen terrorists, had been the work of the FSB (formerly the KGB) security and intelligence service. Once Litvinenko became ill from his poisoning and died, after garnering tremendous media attention in Britain and throughout the West, the predictable accusations that Putin had ordered his death began flying. At the time of this writing, the investigation is still ongoing and it remains unclear exactly what role Litvinenko’s allies and rogue FSB agents may have had in Litvinenko’s death, but so far nothing substantive has been made public that corroborates the reflexive reaction of blaming the Putin regime.

Regardless, thanks to six years of a steady drumbeat of warnings about Putin’s authoritarianism and the supposed menace a “new Russian imperialism” poses to Europe, the former Soviet republics and, ultimately, the entire world, the unsubstantiated claim that the Kremlin authorized the exceedingly clumsy, public murder of Litvinenko seemed only too plausible to people who have been conditioned to think of Putin as a new Stalin.

What of the truth of Berezovsky and Litvinenko’s claims? According to the government, the 1999 Moscow bombings had been masterminded by Amir Khattab, a Saudi Arabian Salafist jihadi who had taken up the Chechen cause in the name of Islamic radicalism, and given Khattab’s previous history and the increased Islamicisation of the Chechen cause in the 1990s this remains the most plausible explanation for the attacks. The bombings led directly to the resumption of open hostilities in Chechnya. The Moscow bombings had come shortly after Chechen rebels had begun to infiltrate neighboring Dagestan where a bombing earlier in the month had prompted Russian military action. It was the potential destabilization of Dagestan, which was and is, like Chechnya, a part of the Russian Federation, that represented the real provocation to Moscow to resume the war against Chechen separatists—not the Moscow attacks. Because of the very real human rights abuses that have occurred during the prosecution of the Chechen wars—as they have happened in Iraq, by the way—Western public opinion has tended to look favorably on reports that cast the Russian government’s methods and motives in the worst possible light, which has played very well into the hands of anti-Russian forces.

This brings us to Western agitation about Chechnya. Chechnya has been a preoccupation of certain influential and prominent American Russophobes in particular at least since the start of the Second Chechen War. Sen. John McCain, one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination in 2008, was already on a tear about Russian depredations in Chechnya in his 2000 campaign and gave indications during the campaign that he considered it an important priority to intervene in Chechnya in some manner to bring an end to the war there. As some will recall, Sen. McCain was at that time the poster boy for aggressive, neoconservative foreign policy activists inside the Republican Party, and his hard line on Chechnya matched the long-running neoconservative interest in encircling, containing and weakening post-Soviet Russia that recurred throughout the ‘90s. Beginning with the infamous 1990 Wolfowitz Memo, which laid out a proposal for massive military buildups and interventions in the non-Russian republics, it continued throughout the decade and included brazen, full-throated neoconservative support for the U.S. and NATO bombings of Yugoslavia in 1995 and 1999 respectively. Praise for the Chechen cause, descriptions of Chechnya’s “president,” Aslan Maskhadov, as a freedom fighter, and apologias for Chechen terrorism (which none of the writers would have accepted on behalf of, say, Palestinians or anti-American terrorists), became regular staples of neoconservative commentary for a decade. Their most frequent outlet was the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, a veritable fountain of pro-oligarch and anti-Putin articles. Many prominent neoconservatives, such as Midge Decter, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen and Bill Kristol, among many others, joined together with others after the start of the second war in Chechnya to continue their blatant anti-Russian campaigning by forming the euphemistically-named organization, American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus.

Much as many of these same people were eager to break Kosovo off from Serbia proper as a way of weakening a state whose government they wanted to see brought to heel, the ACPC’s goal of aiding Chechen separatism and terrorism has the clear goal of increasing political fragmentation inside Russia and inciting ethnic resentments of minority groups against Russia in an effort to foment internal disorder and achieve the eventual break-up of the Russian Federation.

It is in the context of such dangerous and provocative anti-Russian Western activism that Americans and Europeans need to view the inevitably heavily biased reporting, frequently excessive criticism and ideologically and politically driven commentary that seek to make Putin’s regime appear somehow uniquely abominable and seeks to make Russia, a natural ally against jihadis, once more into an implacable enemy. This does not require us to endorse all of the Putin regime’s actions, nor does it mean that Americans should ignore when legitimate American interests do conflict with those of Russia, as will sometimes happen, but it does require us to be wary about trusting the obsessive vilification of another nation and another government when tension and conflict between America and Russia serve the interests of neither great nation.

Daniel Larison is a doctoral candidate in Byzantine history at the University of Chicago. He blogs at Eunomia

An accident waiting to happen in Iran

As the US continues to point accusing fingers at Iran over its suspected meddling in Iraq, Tehran believes that Washington is trying to needle it into a rash response. The killing of 11 elite Iranian officers in one of Iran's restive provinces is exactly the type of provocation Iran has to guard against lest an uneasy calm turn into an "accidental" storm.

Feb 16, 2007

By Iason Athanasiadis

TEHRAN - The growing US military buildup in the Persian Gulf appears to be making Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad tone down his rhetoric while also forcing the country's leadership to adopt a more circumspect approach to dealing with Washington. But another terrorist spectacular rocked Iran's wild southeastern region on Wednesday, targeting the country's elite Revolutionary Guard and souring the newly positive atmosphere.

Ahmadinejad began his charm offensive during his February 12 speech marking the 28th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution when he remained silent on a prior pledge to make what would have been a landmark and confrontational announcement about his country's nuclear program. Analysts were widely expecting the Iranian president to announce that up to 3,000 centrifuges had been installed at the Natanz nuclear facility in central Iran. Iran faces next Wednesday a United Nations Security Council deadline to have stopped all uranium-enrichment activities, or face renewed United Nations sanctions or even a possible military strike.

Ahmadinejad flirted his way through an interview with the American Broadcasting Co's Diane Sawyers, lobbing along the way dovish statements such as that Iran opposes "any" proliferation of nuclear weapons and remains open to negotiations with the West. At the end of the interview, Ahmadinejad jokingly chastised Sawyers for asking combative questions and lectured her that "women should not be asking tough questions about war, women should ask about love, culture and family", according to the American journalist.

But regional analysts warn that Washington and Tehran are currently negotiating the most treacherous diplomatic stretch, with "accidental" war a distinct possibility. This period ahead of the UN deadline could well simply be the calm before the storm.

"My major concern at this point is the US, because we have identified Iran as our enemy and we have increased our military posture in the region, the combination of the rhetoric and the military forces could lead to an accidental escalation," said Gary Sick, a former National Security Council adviser in the Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations.

US President George W Bush continues to point an accusing finger at Iran. In his latest attack, he insisted on Wednesday that Iranian special operations forces are providing the sophisticated roadside bombs being used to kill US troops in Iraq and declared: "I intend to do something about it."

These threats echo in the upper echelons of the Islamic Republic's leadership as Washington beefs up its military presence in the Persian Gulf and deploys Patriot anti-missile systems in several Gulf Arab states where it maintains military forces. This week, Iran's first president, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, spoke to the Saudi-owed Al-Arabiyyah news portal from his Paris exile, saying it is very likely that the United States will conduct a military strike against his country soon.

Iranian diplomats believe that a series of recent US military raids targeting Iranian diplomats in neighboring Iraq are intended to needle Tehran into a rash response that could serve as a pretext to initiate military action. Iranians suspected of carrying out attacks on US and Iraqi forces have been detained over the course of three raids since the beginning of the year. Last week, another Iranian diplomat was abducted by Iraqi troops in downtown Baghdad.

"It is not appropriate to act in a foolhardy way, rather we should behave thoughtfully," said former two-times president Hashemi Rafsanjani to a gathering of foreign students in Qom. "We have to be very careful and not provoke the enemy."

Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie announced last week that his agents had identified 100 spies working for the US and Israel and "intending to collect political and military information" from Iran's border areas, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Iranian officials have been claiming for years that the US supports armed groups in the country's border provinces and is seeking to sponsor ethnic separatist strife. There has been a spike in violent incidents along Iran's periphery since early 2006, which also includes much of Iran's Sunni Muslim minority. Iranian officials have privately accused Sunni Arab states of sponsoring such activities and paying Shi'ite Iranians to convert to Sunni Islam.

"I worry about an accidental explosion rather than a planned attack that we can see coming," said Sick. "Every key person in the US administration says they are not planning an attack on Iran, but a lot of people in the administration seem to think they wouldn't mind if such a thing happened. Under such circumstances, it is always possible for accidents to take place, even engineered accidents."

Bombs on the border
The question of whether Washington is engaged in provocations must also be crossing the minds of the Iranian leadership after a bomb attack against a bus carrying members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards in isolated Sistan-Balochistan province on Wednesday.

A passenger car loaded with explosives stopped in front of the bus and its passengers fled on motorcycles shortly before the bomb detonated, killing 11 officers, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. There have been conflicting rumors that the Jundallah (Soldier of Allah) group has claimed responsibility for the action.

Jundallah, a Sunni Muslim militant group, last year conducted a series of daring raids targeting the Iranian government. In December 2005, Jundallah claimed responsibility for kidnapping seven Iranian soldiers. They were apparently released through negotiations with local tribesmen. Last April, Iranian newspapers reported that "rebels" killed two Iranian army officers and seriously wounded a senior religious official. Two months later, three small explosions injured two people in Zahedan.

Iranian officials have claimed they have seized "military-grade weapons and documents that show the group's attachment to oppressors [foreign powers] aiming to create conflict".

These recent actions appear to be separate from the ongoing, low-level drug war in Sistan-Balochistan province that has claimed the lives of about 1,700 Iranian soldiers since the 1979 revolution. They come at a time of surging Baloch nationalism and the convening of several separatist conferences in Europe and the US.
The pressure on Tehran comes amid growing regional Sunni-Shi'ite tension and reciprocal accusations that Iran and Sunni states are sponsoring proxy groups against each other inside Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Sudan and Yemen.

"Why is Iran seeking to defeat America in Lebanon?" asked Ayman al-Safadi, the editor of the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad. "Because Lebanon is a mere card. Let Lebanon burn. Let its cities be destroyed. Let its people be divided. This is an insignificant price in the Persian calculation. The tensions in Lebanon are an Iranian message to America that stability in the Middle East is dependent upon its decisions."

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been working together to defuse regional tensions and halt Washington's attempts to present itself as a savior of the Sunnis against an Iran-led expanding Shi'ite "crescent". Ali Larijani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, is currently in Riyadh for talks on how to resolve the crisis, amid warnings by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that the West is seeking to divide the Islamic ummah (community) for its own ends.

Iason Athanasiadis is an Iran-based journalist.

Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd.

The Fall of Modernity

February 26, 2007 Issue
Copyright © 2006 The American Conservative

Has the American narrative authored its own undoing?

by Michael Vlahos

We are losing our wars in the Muslim world because our vision of history is at odds with reality. This is a well-established condition of successful societies, a condition that inevitably grows more worrisome with time and continuing success. In fact, what empires have most in common is how their sacred narratives come to rule their strategic behavior—and rule it badly. In America’s case, our war narrative works against us to promote our deepest fear: the end of modernity.1

A nation’s evolving storyline gives concrete form to an accumulation of success and translates this into an assurance of transcendence. Those that claim to be the grandest societies in their own world inevitably style themselves as empires, not simply as large kingship domains exalted by good fortune but as regnant successors to a universal ideal. Thus the Ottoman vision as successor to the Roman Empire of Justinian, and of the contemporary Hapsburgs as the true heirs of the Western Roman Empire. Thus also Louis XIV, so too the Czars, as sons of Byzantium. This self-styling grows into a collective conviction that the once-national, now-imperial, soon-to-be-universal narrative is not only an inevitable story but is actually coterminous with history itself.

Later, when threats seem to come out of nowhere, society is surprised, affronted, and deeply apprehensive because the presence of such threats symbolically suggests that the narrative might be false. All threats are then mortal threats—not because they put at risk the viability of the society itself but because they threaten the sacred symbolism of history that has become inseparable from national identity. They are a chilling announcement that the story is about to meet a bad end, or worse—be replaced by someone else’s story.

Empires in their later stages therefore see threats not only as physical but also as symbolic, and the symbolic threat is always the more important, for it represents existential value—identity itself—and requires a necessarily existential response. It is not simply the actual threat that must be countered: the experience of meeting the threat must reclaim the divine certainty of the imperial narrative for all to see.

When such attacks come, they come for a reason. Their very existence reveals that the imperial-sacred narrative has become a war objective in its own right. Indeed, because the narrative has become enshrined as a sort of national tabernacle, successfully attacking it can reap as many rewards for an enemy in terms of authority as any material gains.

The imperial narrative of the grand nation thus becomes its double-edged sword. In day-to-day politics, its celebration reminds the people of their strength and unity. Even more important for external imperial relations, narrative becomes the badge of legitimacy as lead nation.

But the imperial narrative also makes the grand nation vulnerable to symbolic attack, a weak strategic position because the empire must maintain not only its material interests but also the perfect integrity of the tabernacle—and as a symbolic edifice, the imperial narrative is brittle and relatively easy to attack. Moreover, if it is attacked successfully, regaining lost authority requires disproportionate effort so great as to risk being self-defeating. Even empires that are truly decadent and surely should know better—for whom even the smallest shock might unleash an historical avalanche—have put defense of the narrative above reality. Both Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans did just that in 1914.

Empires that come to identify themselves with the universal, whose stories are indistinguishable from grandeur and the hopes of humankind, cannot separate from sacred story without destroying themselves. So, even weak and failed, they must fight as if they were still grand. What choice do they have?

The United States, in contrast to Austria-Hungary or the Ottomans, still cherishes the freshness of its claim as the world’s young hope. Indeed, in 2001, we were not simply the world nation: we were the “hyperpower.”

Thus the 9/11 attacks were a frontal assault on the American narrative. They were instinctively compared to Pearl Harbor, but we were not the same innocent nation in 2001 that we were in 1941, seemingly minding our own business. In the intervening 60 years, we had built a position that in its narrative splendor was a true world empire. Some even announced that we had triumphantly ended history on our terms. Henceforth only American values reigned.

The attacks were not simply a violation of the national person—as in 1941—but an affront to all that was right and true. Yet its emotional symbolism had a darker side too—the suggestion, felt but unvoiced by Americans, that the attacks were the first black sign of The Fall of the City, the beginning of the end of the American sacred narrative.

Simple retribution would not be enough. We had to utterly destroy the prophecy couched in 9/11 and reassert American predestination.

This grand symbolic response—re-establishing our dignitas and reclaiming history—had to be a Great War narrative. It had to mirror, and in critical ways surpass, the mythic passage of World War II. That war reified the narrative tabernacle, but this war had an even greater charge: the divine final fulfillment of America’s world mission.

So we are, as our own government tells us, in a war of civilizations—a national testing in which we will emerge triumphant, the true beacon and best hope of humankind or else find ourselves destroyed, the detritus of history. This is not simply inflated rhetoric. It is avowed American policy.

In the president’s own words, it is nothing less than “the unfolding of a global ideological struggle, our time in history,” pitting “progress” and “freedom” against a “mortal danger to all humanity,” the “enemy of civilization.” Moreover, “the call of history has come to the right country,” and “the defense of freedom is worth the sacrifice.” Ultimately the “evil ones” will be destroyed, and “this great country will lead the world to safety, security, and peace,” a millennial world where “free peoples will own the future.”2

Here inevitably, rather than reflecting actual conditions, it is more important for reality to fit the sacred narrative. So for nearly four years, it has been “the Iraqi people” vs. “the killers,” or more broadly in the world of Islam, “good moderate Muslims” vs. “evil.”

Does it matter whether we pursue grand drama for wholly narcissistic reasons, as long as we win? What if we don’t? Failure might lead to the collapse of friendly tyrannies like Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia or even to economic crisis and an expansion of the war. Longstanding alliances could come apart. But even then our military power, our vast economy, and the strength of the American people would still be intact. Strategic recovery should still be possible. The old narrative might be in tatters, but that might turn out to be a good thing because we could then build a more modest national story.

Such recovery is foreclosed, however, in a script of civilization and its enemies. Not only did American leaders go for the existential War of History instead of dealing with reality, they chose the worst possible dramatic vehicle for restaging the national passion play. For what we are experiencing is no war of civilizations. It is not even a war.

Because the national narrative is a sacred retelling of God’s message and His American mission, its periodic restaging always assumes the form of a great war—revolution, civil war, world war. But after 9/11, there was no great war to be had, so we created a simulacrum. Up to a point, we might keep it looking like a war. But at last it will not perform for us. It cannot support the demands of the drama we require. What we needed was a grand yet simple story with easy enemies and a ringing ending called victory. But our drama has shape-shifted from a war into an uncontrollable force accelerating larger world transformations.

The “war” is revealing the distant contours of the end of modernity.

Modernity is the world we made for ourselves after 1941, built atop the world of European modernity, much like the ancient Romans built their international system on an earlier Hellenistic world. When we invoke modernity, it is the equivalent of antiquity saying Romanitas. The word sweeps up in its arms an entire civilized way of life: a literary and scientific canon, a political philosophy, a temple city of institutions, a complete identity.

Moreover, modernity is not simply a generalized Western vision of modern life. It is the old Romanitas reborn. Progress and prosperity, enterprise and free markets, even human freedom—humanity’s best and only possibility.

Yet it is precisely this possibility, through this war, that has begun to subside.

American modernity will continue to dominate world culture and affairs for some time to come. It will yet hold even as it slows down. And its passing, if ever finally marked, will like Rome’s seem more a transformation than a collapse, more like continuity than calamity. What we see today is the beginning of its subsidence only. In metaphorical terms, think early Late Antiquity. After all, Romans at the beginning of the 3rd century still had several imperial centuries to go.

But can this whole claim be serious? Modernity, globalization, and an American world are still inevitable, are they not? Cold War victory made modernity seem unstoppable. A united Europe, a reforming Russia, and the free-market modernization of China and India meant that America’s cause had become humanity’s cause.

In the 1990s, some argued that modernity was failing whole sectors of humanity. But even critics of globalization saw this as a problem of limits, disinterest, and resistance. Certainly the enterprise reached some natural boundaries. The wretched of the earth could not be instantly accommodated and uplifted. Moreover, Americans were disengaged. Desperate margins persisted in part because we ultimately cared so little for the diehards and holdouts against history living there.

Then those “dead-enders” shook globalization’s storyline to its very core. 9/11 rattled our faith in modernity. “Draining the swamps” was to right forever the errors of the 1990s. But this grand drama has accomplished the opposite: it has weakened American modernity and puts its future at risk, in three ways.

First, the American war narrative rejects modernity’s future constituents: its message is that we are foreclosing on them. We do this knowing that American modernity cannot long survive repossessing its promise of a universal vision for humankind.

Second, American modernity loses authority because our war promotes alternative and resistant communities. Demonizing them elevates them, and their new stature creates competing alternatives to modernity.

Third, the American war narrative shows modernity helpless in its own defense. Military failure becomes a literal stripping of our world authority, actually pushing the global future away from us.

“The Promise of American Life” flung out to the world was to be a future of universal human redemption and transcendence. Americans might argue bitterly over how to achieve this, but before the war there was no argument over the desirability of the goal.

Now two-thirds of humanity is moving away from us and from our vision of one world. While sleek Tom Friedman rhapsodizes new Silicon Valleys like Bangalore, in Planet of Slums Mike Davis writes, “Half of Bangalore’s population lacks piped water, much less cappuccino, and there are more ragpickers and street children (90,000) than software geeks (about 60,000). In an archipelago of 10 slums, researchers found only 19 latrines for 102,000 residents.”3

Universal integration is no longer the human prospect but a black split between “us” and a “surplus humanity.” Globalization has become the privilege of those lucky few billions in the formal labor market. But what about the other half on their way to becoming the other two-thirds? What happens to our universal redemptive narrative in a world where modernity ends forever at 40 percent of humanity?

Even during the “slow globalization” 1990s, the story was being rewritten. Robert Kaplan’s The Coming Anarchy helped steer us there. Repelled and horrified by his descriptions of Abidjan and Conakry, the message readers took back was: to survive, keep them all as far away as possible. No human redemption, just human consignment.4

We were prepped during those years for the answer this war narrative now gives us: redefine humanity. The world of the left behind is the seedbed of the dark side—from drug lords and terrorists to medieval religious fanatics.5

The Great Muslim War advances this transformation. They say that the dark side is only evil radicals—and their supporters. But listen closely: except for the tiny handful of “moderate Muslims” we anoint, all Islamists and their communities are declared evil radicals.6 And if hundreds of millions so sympathize, then truthfully, is not the dark side the entire Muslim world? To make sure the point is not missed, war commentators are quick to add that Islam’s civilization is decayed and failed.7

But this is no simple fight with the Muslim world and Islamic civilization. This is a global war, and the very survival of our civilization is at stake. Us versus them is not Americans versus Muslims but civilization and its enemies.8

Thus our transfigured narrative can keep its titular universalism as it expands the enemy “other” beyond ragtag Takfiris to something really big: the Demiurge, the great Evil. If we are civilization, then the full enemy, in our unspoken logic, is the entire amniotic sea of dark humanity birthing and succoring attackers. Univeralism is bent to the service of grand struggle.

The Great Muslim War replaces the story of globalization without formally discarding it. This is metamorphosis by association, linking what is wretched with what is evil, transfigured from those lost to modernity to the very enemies of modernity. The world’s left behind morph from our moral responsibility into dark forces we must subdue. Rather than an American story of global deliverance and redemption, this war substitutes its own story of good against evil, of civilization against the night.9 Instead of us reaching to the ends of the earth with the promise of American life, our promise is contingent on submission: “You are either with us or against us.”

This is promoting strong counter-movements among “the global other.”

Alternative communities are everywhere, and to us they are the very picture of illegitimacy, deviance, and criminality. There are, for example, 100,000 gang members in El Salvador and Honduras and entire states in Brazil and Mexico ruled by drug lords. In Brazil’s cities, perhaps 20 percent of the municipal core is beyond government control.

Now spread this Latin landscape to the whole world. To Somalia, where Islamic courts bring some kind of order out of chaos. To the Brotherhood in Egypt, where Islamists offer the only real social services people will ever know, in the face of a ruling class as corrupt as any since late antiquity. To Waziristan, Baluchistan, the Muslim parts of Thailand, the Moros, Chechyna, Aceh, and the Tamils. Even to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Our clinical term is “non-state actor,” living in a world of “ungoverned areas”—as though their local governance is “unrule,” their living communities “unsocieties.” They are merely human black holes to be mopped up and shut down. We see only our labels of cool acronym and hot “terrorist.”

Superficially this may look a bit like Cold War days, when every “liberation movement” set off “communist” klaxons. But this is not then. Back then, the dark force was the Soviet Union, Third World seducer.

The real Cold War analogy is in the Soviet metaphor itself. Thus the “Islamo-fascist” threat equals the Soviet threat, requiring an equivalent struggle. But unlike the Cold War, our survival now depends not on deterrence but literally on destruction.

This story has remarkable implications for alternative communities. Our Islamofascist branding makes every movement of Muslim resistance an attack on us. Yet most resistance instead speaks to local yearnings. By seeing an enemy of civilization in every Muslim non-state actor, we unthinkingly widen the struggle. Alternative communities are indelible in the “evil” world landscape painted by the global war on terrorism—the ongoing metamorphosis of the global other into the Mordor of our imagination.

Then there are meta-communities of piety. Modernity’s greatest failure is spiritual—neon-lit in Europe, where old piety has crashed and burned. But among the global other scorched by modernity’s “creative destruction,” it is not that people have abandoned piety but that it has abandoned them. In globalization’s mixing bowl, the meditative power of old ethos has been lost. Yet American modernity offers nothing to take its place: just ask an Afghani or an Iraqi.

Piety is a cry for meaning in a stripped world. Two movements stand out: the Pentecostalist and the Islamist. Both share a deep repudiation of the Western nation state as the supreme human ideal—not because they are intrinsically anti-Western but because they see modernity as antithetical to what people need. If this seems harsh, just feel the fervor and the fulfillment they offer.

Calling them throwbacks from a primitive past denies what we need to see: that modernity itself has been stripping, not giving. Denial robs us of insight into what people need, while calling their piety “primitive” encourages us to see the global other as a lesser humanity. We have after all declared that the lowest bar we will accept for Muslims is “moderate Islam,” where we will ratify what is correct.

Like American modernity, Romans also presided over a humanity left behind, a welter of cults jostling in the social and spiritual vacuum. Romans also proscribed resister cults, defining Christians the way we define terrorists—as threats to civilization.10 Yet then, as now, the spiritual alternatives people sought could not be controlled. The great success stories then were Christianity and Islam. Today’s evangelists reach back to their passionate origins: the martyrs of the early Church and Al Ansar, the brotherhood of Muhammad. We fear to face the passionate fusion of alternative community and transcendental faith because the prospect of true meta-communities of piety leverages and multiplies the energies of local resistance.

In modernity’s youth, those who resisted simply ended up as notches on history’s belt, the fate of all who stand in the way of progress. What is different today is that resistance grows everywhere in the face of modernity’s “power.” They are fighters—and they know how to beat us. Ideas, visions, and sacrifice meant nothing in the Victorian face of the Maxim gun, but our grand war narrative has endowed a counter-narrative of resistance.

The Great Muslim War showcases this achievement, creating dramatic stagings that we cannot win and that paradoxically become the gift of transcendence to our enemy. Witness Iraq, Afghanistan, and Southern Lebanon. Botched stagings pressure local tyrant allies—Saudi princes, Pakistani generals, and Egyptian pharaohs. We find ourselves scrambling to prop them up, visibly giving the lie to our public values. Remarkably, our war story makes its sacred centerpiece—modernity—look backward and repressive.

We declare that “resistance is futile,” yet the opposite is true. The bigger we make the enemy, the bigger they become. Ours is the complicity of backhand legitimization. Whether we admit this or shout the reverse, effectively our war narrative works to set up superpower defeat—even if at first it seems only a drama of defeat played out in the media—because with one stroke, our narrative itself will have become a lie. This is doubly destructive. Not only do we fail myth—what are we? the D-list to the Greatest Generation—but myth is no longer there for us. World War II cannot save us because according to the strictures of our own myth, we are no longer worthy of being saved.

The bell toll for modernity is victorious resistance through New War.11 Our enforcers have other ways of describing it: irregular war, asymmetrical war, unconventional war, guerilla war, fourth-generation war, anti-terrorism, counter-insurgency. But what do these filtered images tell us about ourselves? This is underhanded war, dirty war, war with those beneath us.

This is an interesting problem. We want to fight a clean war with those like us. On the other hand, while we pursue the war we like, the other pursues the war that promises survival and transcendence. Clausewitz himself ratified New War’s power. He said that strategy at its most existential “is the use of the engagement for the purposes of the war.”

The unrecognized armed community seeks to use “the engagement” for its desperate purposes: survival and then realization—to be independent.

This makes engagement with an unrecognized armed community fundamentally different from battle with another nation state, which is all about negotiating relative advantage within the context of an already well-established relationship. But as we avoid relationships with unrecognized armed communities, we deny their right to exist. This puts us in a difficult position because as we deny them, we unite them. They fight with every fiber, and for us to win, we must be Roman in our ruthlessness. But we are unwilling to kill on that scale.12 Before we even enter into combat, we are weaker and they are stronger.

Our war is about attacking the objects that define enemy forces with things that go boom. Their war is about their people achieving authority and turning it into legitimacy. Making the war about their goals weakens us.

War is where the people are, and our “engagement space” is where the people are not: the battlefield where armies and their weapons fight. Their engagement space is the heart of their inmost community. The whole people are the fight, so we are forced to fight them all. Not all are armed, but all are participants.

Our weapons are sacred things anointed by holy technology. In contrast, they are their weapons. In a city, our weapons cannot be used to full effect because they cannot be used indiscriminately against people. Their human metaphor focuses on the fighter, using all at hand for the fight. Hence the consistently adaptable effectiveness of his IED. The ultimate people-weapon is the suicide bomber, and the martyr-bomb is smarter than any U.S. technology. Unrelenting suicide attacks claim authority within their engagement space over an enemy whose first consideration is “force protection.”

They will not fight on our terms, they will not fight in our engagement space, and our weapons are ineffective against them. Yet we deny that the enemy dictates the terms of battle. We tell ourselves that we are “taking the battle to the enemy,” but we are really giving the enemy a path to victory.

Killing them boosts their cause. “Shock and awe” creates an instant transcendental experience for resistant communities—their own London Blitz. Shared sacrifice is a mythic passage of becoming: the way through blood war to a new and triumphant collective identity, as though the energy we lavish on them flows into them.13

Fighting the Great State is a path to legitimacy. Surviving is not only winning, it is rising and being transformed. The Great One you fight raises you up and speaks your name to the world. We are midwives. Our efforts help birth a future that works against us.

The United States is actively dismantling its own paradigm of modernity. Someday we may understand what has been lost, but now we unconsciously celebrate our passing. Forever War makes the fall perversely satisfying as it becomes more necessary than modernity.

We have forced a fateful transformation of our sacred narrative. America is now tasked with bringing the dark side to submission. But of course we have neither the means nor the will to do so. The Great Muslim War will keep us locked in, so the more we thrash within our story, the more we will undo ourselves. Our narrative has blocked every exit. Escape officially equals retreat, and retreat equals utter defeat. We must never quit the fight—meaning we remain willing participants to our final fall.

This is our defeat-dynamic: We have set up non-state triumph in Iraq, no matter when or how we leave it. We have ensured the eventual collapse of our ancien regime nation-states. We have no relationship with revolutionary communities that will succeed them.

Tragically, the transformation of the American narrative is no simple, awful misstep. It is no neocon excursion that simply needs to be recalled, at which point a sound course will set things right. We created our inescapable struggle with Islam—and the world’s awareness is unraveling American modernity, whose existence always depended on its confident future. This is finished.

Years may pass before this becomes clear. So cries for a rejuvenated liberal internationalism will shout down their own irrelevance. They will get all the airtime they want in the national conversation because they are performing an essential service. They reassure national elites that our historical disaster can be reversed by a stroke of policy. But over time, the oratory will wear so thin that reality will at last be naked: our universal story is now chaff to the wind like the grand narratives of all empires.

America’s destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan mobilized the Muslim world against us, but more than that it put the global other on notice. For much of the West and most of Islam, the lie of modernity as American altruism is dying in Iraq. Americans care about the death of their soldiers but barely a whit for the destruction of a society wrought in the name of “democracy.”

Our future now veers wildly from the Cold War’s end, when our sacred narrative touched fulfillment. We thought we were moments from finishing the Lord’s work. Now the Lord’s work is killing Islamists.

A great nation continues to marshal its collective power, but it will face a changed world. There will still be grand nations like China, India, and others. The United States survives, in material terms greater than ever. But its war narrative has helped to birth a changed world and to cast off its claim to the universal. There will also be a weltering of new human combinations and re-combinations.

The subsiding of modernity may be liberating. Freed from the world center, we might find a safer place to survey an evolving humanity. No longer the object of all attack, we might productively rethink our national purpose. Old modernity’s institutions and practices will be folded into, and thus partly lost within, a new world-cultural mix. This may not be our preferred outcome. But losing our claim to the universal opens the way to new realities. We might take comfort that American modernity will be a part of them.

We might take comfort too in being history’s greatest midwife to change, if also to our own undoing.


Michael Vlahos is principal professional staff at the National Security Analysis Department of The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

1 CIA Director Michael Hayden’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee should put to bed any lingering suspicion that “narrative” is just the subversive language of Post-Modernism: “No single narrative is sufficient to explain all the violence we see in Iraq today.”

For more on narrative in culture and history, see D.E. Polkinhorne, Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, (State University of New York, 1988).

2 Many of these excerpts are from an October 6, 2005 speech and can be referenced here: Earlier presidential pronouncements cited here are referenced in Michael Vlahos, “Religion and U.S. Grand Strategy,”, June 8, 2003,

3 Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, (Verso, 2006, 172).

4 Robert Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy,” The Atlantic Monthly, February 1996, He put the “global other” in the starkest possible terms: “We are entering a bifurcated world. Part of the globe is inhabited by Hegel's and Fukuyama's Last Man, healthy, well fed, and pampered by technology. The other, larger, part is inhabited by Hobbes's First Man, condemned to a life that is ‘poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’”

5 Ralph Peters, popular thumper of the war narrative, gives us a peek at the evolution of his feelings about the global other in a collection of essays: Beyond Terror (Stackpole, 2002). In 1994, he wrote somewhat dispassionately: “We have entered the second and final phase of the rejection of the West by noncompetitive cultures … They struggled to become those whom they reviled, and failed. Now, inarticulately enraged by the evidence of that failure, these broken states are attempting to do no less than to detach themselves from our history. The ‘apocalypse’ is occurring in the rejectionist states themselves, where demagogic leaders, mass movements, and criminal gangs impoverish their lands and peoples … The new barbarians who have no interest in government or society beyond what they can seize from it are the human apotheosis of the second phase of the rejection of the West” (209-11, 253). By 2000, in “When Devils Walk the Earth,” he writes of a “dark transformation” among the global other, where “the grail of individuals and masses alike will be the quest for an excuse for their failures. They will find it in a return to crude, intoxicating systems of belief and valuation—wronged gods and stolen patrimonies. The result will be intermittent euphorias of hatred, stunning violence, and ultimate failure that then begins the cycle again. Much of humanity is returning to the days of witches, anti-Christ, and self-willed apocalypse” (87). Here, more than a year before 9/11, is the passionate prefiguration of global other as civilization’s dark enemy.

6 I asked James Woolsey after a speech in which he declared all Islamists to be “totalitarians” if he really meant all Islamists. After all, I said, there is quite a range of Islamist thought, much of it quite moderate. He retreated a bit and admitted it was something of a sliding scale. I followed up and asked if he thought of the celebrated “moderate” Islamist Tariq Ramadan. “He is a totalitarian,” Woolsey replied.

7 Bernhard Lewis legitimated the notion that Islam is a failed civilization in What Went Wrong: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (HarperCollins, 2003). More recent iconic portraits are Tony Blankley’s The West’s Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations? (Regnery, 2005) and the documentary, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,”

All give a curt nod upfront to the distinction between the majority of peaceful Muslims and a core of radicals. But that distinction quickly fades before the relentless imagery of chanting Muslim throngs and the fiery mullahs driving them—blending and folding into our memory of the same images of pilgrim crowds in Mecca, of worshippers everywhere: this is Islam, the terror comes out of Islam, the enemy is everywhere in Islam, it is all about Islam. That such savagery is so intimately coterminous and widespread within civilization is the true mark of a failed civilization. Ralph Peters is characteristically more direct: “We are without doubt witnessing something without precedent, the crash of a once great, still proud civilization, that of Middle Eastern Islam. The terrorist problems we face from the Middle East are not America's fault. It's the fault of the extreme failure of Middle Eastern civilization.”

8 Lee Harris’s long essay branded this essential trope of the war narrative. Reader comments on reveal an unconscious conflation of fighters with dark side humanity. For example: “He makes a good and excellent case for acting unilaterally, and for ignoring … masses of impoverished, illiterate, “peasants” that represent potential hoards of human locusts carrying disease, crime, and instability wherever they migrate to … We must reconstitute our society as a fit society with a warrior ethic,” or, “My takeaway from this book is its development of the idea of an opposition between the ‘western team’ against the ‘eternal gang of ruthless men,’” or, “No society can be based simply on rule by a ruthless gang. As a matter of fact, such a gang can't even create a society: at most it can take over a society. Therefore, Harris argues, gangs not only should be driven from the face of the Earth but are inherently incapable of ruling in the long run.”

9 This is an early version of the official J-5 briefing: Rear Admiral Bill Sullivan, Vice Director Strategy Plans and Policy, “Fighting the Long War—Military Strategy for the War on Terrorism,”

10 The early Christians were treated by the Roman state as a criminal cult. But by the end of the 3rd century, after two centuries of growth and forty years of complete toleration—“the little peace of the Church” from 260 to 302—Christian society had emerged as the main rival to the traditional pagan governing class. So when state persecution was violently renewed in 302, the old ruling class was taking on a political-civilizational movement already partly legitimated and fully its equal. Christianity had become too strong to be stripped of legitimacy. Its authority was great enough then to engineer the conversion of an emperor — all elegantly analyzed by Peter Brown in The World of Late Antiquity (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1971).

11 “New War” is not new of course: it is simply new to us. Americans have been startled and confounded by “war that is not us” again and again, and we have adapted only to lose that knowledge to memory, again and again. But the grander our vision of the American nation, the less well we seem to want to adapt, if our lamentations over Mogadishu, Iraq, and Afghanistan are any guide.

12 A very vocal minority clearly thirsts for this path, however. Why? Because their vision of the World War II sacred narrative declares that victory in America's great, long wars comes only after equally great sacrifice, and that the enemy must be broken before he will submit. Thus I have had many “Defense World” conversations that have ended with: “the time may come when we will have to kill millions of Muslims,” or, “history shows that to win over a people you have to kill at least 10 percent of them, like the Romans” (for comparison, we killed or contributed to the death of about five percent of Japan from 1944-46, while Russia has killed at least eight percent of the Chechen people). Or consider the implications of “Freeper” talk-backs to an article of mine in The American Conservative: “History shows that wars only end with a totally defeated enemy otherwise they go on … Either Islam or us will quit in total destruction.” Or another: “Will it take an American Hiroshima to awaken the majority, to mobilize our masses against the Islamic quest of world domination?” (

13 Martin van Creveld identified the initiation—and implied the completion—of this dynamic, where the strong are slowly sapped by the weak: “If you are strong, and you are fighting the weak for any period of time, you are going to become weak yourself … it’s only a question of time. … The problem is that you cannot prove yourself against someone who is much weaker than yourself. …” “Interview with Martin van Creveld,” World In Focus, March 20, 2002, Australian Broadcasting Corporation,

U.S. industrial output falls by largest amount in 17 months

Detroit’s Slump Could Break Up Chrysler Group
Hershey to cut 1,500 jobs
Industrial output falls 0.5 pct. in Jan.

By MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer 53 minutes ago

Industrial output fell in January by the largest amount in 17 months, reflecting huge cutbacks at auto factories.

The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that output at the nation's factories, mines and utilities was down 0.5 percent in January, the biggest setback since Hurricane Katrina disrupted activity in the fall of 2005.

Half of the decline last month reflected a drop of 6 percent in output at auto and auto parts factories. Overall, manufacturing fell by 1.2 percent.

In addition to the cuts in the auto industry, output in the mining sector, which includes oil production, fell by 1.2 percent in January.

The declines were offset somewhat by a 2.3 percent rise in utility output as the unusually mild weather of December was followed by more normal winter weather in January, boosting electricity and natural gas output.

In other economic news, the Labor Department reported that the number of newly laid off workers jumped last week, reflecting in part the frigid weather in many parts of the country.

Jobless claims rose to 357,000 last week, the highest level since late November. The increase of 44,000 claims from the previous week was the biggest one-week increase since Sept. 10, 2005, when claims soared in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast.

The four-week moving average for claims rose to 326,250 last week, the highest level in nine weeks and an indication that conditions in the job market have softened.

Part of the increase in jobless claims last week was due to a blast of cold in the Midwest and Northeast, which triggered higher layoffs in such industries as construction.

Many analysts believe that the unemployment rate, which edged up from 4.5 percent to 4.6 percent in January, will keep rising to perhaps a peak of 5 percent later this year as the economy slows under the impact of previous credit-tightening by the Federal Reserve.

The Fed pushed a key interest rate up from a 46-year low of 1 percent to the current 5.25 percent during a two-year period, with the last rate hike occurring in June 2006.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, delivering the central bank's latest economic forecast to Congress this week, indicated that the Fed is likely to hold rates steady as the slowing economy works to lower inflation pressures.

Many analysts believe the Fed is on the verge of achieving its hoped-for soft landing in which growth slows enough to lower inflation pressures without triggering a recession.

The rise of 44,000 claims to 357,000 last week followed a smaller increase of 5,000 in the previous week.

In the week ending Feb. 3, 38 states and territories reported declines in benefit applications while 14 had an increase and one had no change. The state figures, unlike the national data, are not adjusted for seasonal variations.

The states with the biggest declines in jobless claims for the week of Feb. 3 were Missouri, down 3,250, reflecting fewer layoffs in construction; South Carolina, down 2,494, with fewer layoffs in manufacturing; and Pennsylvania, down 2,154, with fewer layoffs in textile, clothing and furniture manufacturing.

The states with the biggest increases in claims were Virginia, up 2,286, and Michigan, with an increase of 1,336, which was blamed on higher layoffs at auto plants.

Live: President Bush speaks on global war on terror

Live: President Bush speaks on global war on terror

U.S. to shun all members of Palestinian unity govt

Thu Feb 15, 2007 9:35AM EST

By Adam Entous

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The United States will boycott all Palestinian unity government ministers, including non-Hamas members, unless international demands on policy toward Israel are met, a Palestinian official and diplomats said on Thursday.

Some U.S. officials had been advocating a shift in Washington's position that would allow limited diplomatic contacts with cabinet ministers from moderate President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction and other parties.

But a senior Palestinian official said: "The Americans have informed us that they will be boycotting the new government headed by Hamas. The Fatah and independent ministers will be treated the same way that Hamas ministers are treated."

Diplomats familiar with discussions on the issue confirmed Washington's intention to shun members of the unity government unless it satisfied international calls for Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace accords.

U.S. contacts with Abbas would not be affected although diplomatic sources said relations have been strained by his power-sharing deal with Hamas Islamists, a pact that fell short of meeting the demands for the policy changes.

U.S. officials declined to comment and said Washington was waiting to see how a new government would shape up.

Abbas will attend a summit on Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The Palestinian president was expected to hold talks in Gaza later in the day with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to try to resolve problems holding up the formation of a unity administration agreed in negotiations in Saudi Arabia last week.

Abbas abruptly put off an address he was due to give on Thursday about the new government. An official said the delay was due to a dispute with Hamas.


"Hamas has made several unacceptable conditions which cannot be implemented. The Mecca agreement cannot be re-interpreted and must be implemented immediately without any conditions," a Palestinian official said.

Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the current Hamas-led government, said on Israeli Army Radio "there are a lot of problems". He cited the naming of an interior minister, a post that oversees security services, as one of them.

Another unresolved issue is the fate of Hamas's 5,600-member "executive" police force. Fatah is pushing for the force to be broken up but Hamas wants to keep it together.

Fighting between Hamas and Fatah killed more than 90 Palestinians between late December and early February. Both movements cited the violence as a key motive for pursuing a power-sharing pact.

A ban on direct Western financial assistance since Hamas came to power in March has pushed the Palestinian Authority to the brink of financial collapse.

Complicating matters for any incoming government, top Palestinian bank officials said they would not resume transfers to the government without assurances from the United States.

Western diplomats said they doubted such assurances would be forthcoming. Regional and international banks have refused to transfer funds to the Hamas-led government since March for fear of running foul of U.S. sanctions.

Funds have been permitted to go through Abbas's office.

"We are waiting to see if the U.S. will approve the unity government. Nobody is going to jeopardize long-term contacts with the West. It (U.S. authorization) has to be very clear," said the head of a major Palestinian bank.

(Additional reporting by Wafa Amr in Ramallah)

New site about the online politics of the 2008 presidential race

TechPresident is a new group blog from Personal Democracy Forum that covers how the 2008 presidential candidates are using the web, and vice versa, how content generated by voters is affecting the campaign.

The 2008 election will be the first where the Internet will play a central role, not only in terms of how the campaigns use technology, but also in how voter-generated content affects its course. plans to track all these changes in real-time, covering everything from campaign websites, online advertising and email lists to the postings on YouTube and who's got the fastest growing group of friends on Facebook.

Our team of bloggers is made of veterans of the 2004 and 2006 elections, ranging across the political spectrum. Their expertise covers everything from website design to the latest in mobile tools and social networking sites. And we'll look closely not just at what the campaigns are or are not doing, but what voters and activists are doing online to independently affect the election.


This Dog Won't Wag

Last weekend marked the start of the new "marketing campaign" on Iran. It won't work on the public -- but it may persuade a different audience.

Web Exclusive: 02.14.07

By Michael Tomasky

Put aside completely the merits of starting a war with Iran, which is easy to do since there are none. Does the White House really believe that it can help itself politically by doing this? Do the people who have alienated this country and decimated another actually think that they can get away with this -- that the natural order would assert itself, and that the people would respond in the usual rallying way if the president went on prime-time television to announce the commencement of air strikes?

The two most recent polls I found on the question suggest a resounding no. There's a CNN poll from nearly a month ago that asks people about "military action" against Iran; 26 percent said they would favor it, and 68 percent said they'd oppose. There's also a more recent CBS survey that asked people to choose among "military action now," "diplomacy now," and "not a threat." Just 21 percent supported military action, while 57 percent backed diplomacy and 14 percent said Iran was not a threat (they're wrong, I think).

A population so disposed won't easily be flipped, especially by an administration with this track record. And it's numbers like these that have made me a skeptic on the Iran question. Any White House knows that you can't launch a war with numbers like that.

Indeed, this very White House faced skepticism about Iraq in early and mid 2002. Then commenced the marketing campaign of which Andy Card so famously spoke after Labor Day 2002: the television appearances, the ominous warnings about mushroom clouds, the Cincinnati speech, and the notorious sixteen words. Public opinion changed. Even this administration knew that it needed 50-percent-plus-one behind it before it could go into Iraq.

So the point, for the White House, is to move the numbers on Iran. That requires a new "marketing campaign," and sure enough, it started in earnest this past weekend, with the leak to the Times about Iran supplying the EFPs to Shia insurgents in Iraq. Reading that story was a vertiginous experience. It reminded me precisely of reading about the aluminum tubes back in September 2002. The author of the EFPs piece, Michael R. Gordon, was a co-author with Judy Miller on the tubes article, an irony noted here and there. (Gordon also endorsed the surge in a January appearance on Charlie Rose's show, which earned him a reprimand from his superiors.)

Juxtaposed, the polls and the Times piece describe well the razor's edge we're currently dancing on. The polls reflect the sensible conclusion of the American people. Only the real hard-shellers at this point -- about a quarter of the population -- want to go Strangelove on Iran. The rest understand they've been lied to repeatedly and wouldn't trust this bunch to help their mother up off the street if she were lying in front of a bus.

But how about among the national media? If elite media people were polled by CNN or CBS, what do we think the percentages would be? We start with the prominent avowed conservatives who've supported or at least defended almost everything the administration has done (there are a small number of exceptions). Toss in an unrepentant liberal hawk or three, and reporters like Gordon whose appetites for war are fed by their appetites for "scoops" that make the case for war, and I suspect we're well above 25. Ditto the Washington foreign-policy establishment.

And that, in domestic political terms, may end up as the crucial difference between Iraq and Iran. With a full-scale ground war that asked parents and spouses to endorse risking the lives of their loved ones, the Bush officials knew they had to win broad public support. But with targeted air strikes, they might feel that as long as enough talking heads are on television defending whatever they do, they'll have cover.

Iran is a serious problem. I shouldn't even need to clear my throat by saying it. But it's also self-evident that any act of war would stand a very good chance of turning a serious problem into a catastrophic one.

The Bush administration invites its final demise if it repeats its arrogant errors of the past and moves aggressively against Iran. Far from a rallying around the president, I suspect there will be thunderous outrage, unless circumstances -- the real circumstances, as opposed to the ginned-up ones -- are indisputably shown to have warranted military action.

I can't believe they'd do it. But then, they've done a lot of things I couldn't believe.

By Michael Tomasky

Michael Tomasky is the Prospect's editor-at-large. He writes a column most Wednesdays for TAP Online.

Trilateral FM Summit in New Delhi

Chinese, Indian and Russian foreign ministers met in New Delhi Wednesday, stating that their trilateral cooperation did not aim at harming any other nation but to promote international harmony and understanding.

The three ministers reaffirmed the strong commitment made between India, Russia and China to multilateral diplomacy, according to the Joint Communiqué issued after latest trilateral meeting.

They agreed that the three nations, as countries wielding increasing international influence, could all actively contribute to global peace, security and stability.

"China, India and Russia have developed friendly and frequent cooperation on international and regional issues," said Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, speaking at a press conference after the meeting, "The trilateral cooperation will include collaboration in regional organizations like Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and in the United Nations."

China and Russia further welcomed India joining the SCO as an observer country, according to the Joint Communiqué.

Li said all trilateral relations between the three sides would be open, inclusive, transparent and constructive.

The three countries also determined precise avenues for beneficial economic interaction in areas such as energy, transport, infrastructure, health and high technologies including IT and biotechnology.

As a result, the ministers pledged to advise their respective business bodies to organize a trilateral business forum within the year.

The three sides stressed the importance of UN reforms including the UN Security Council in which both China and Russia would support a greater role to be played by India.

An exchange of opinion also took place concerning the anti-terrorism issue, underlining the necessity of working together against terrorism through regional organizations.

They were of a common voice that terrorism should be fought in a consistent, sustained and comprehensive manner with no double standards.

The Joint Communiqué further revealed that the three countries would from now on coordinate on taking swift measures against any factor fueling international terrorism including financing thereof, illegal drug trafficking and trans-national organized crime.

In closing, the document specified that the next trilateral meeting between China, India and Russia would be held in China.

(Xinhua News Agency February 15, 2007)