The Middle of What?

Victor Davis Hanson has a question, “What Is the Middle East In the Middle Of Anymore?” As usual, it’s a good one. Let’s see what he has to say.

Since World War II, the United States has been involved in a series of crises and wars in the Middle East on the premise of protecting U.S., Western, or global interests, or purportedly all three combined. Since antiquity, the Middle East has been the hub of three continents, and of three great religions, and the maritime intersection between East and West.

In modern times American strategic concerns in no particular order were usually the following:

1) Guaranteeing reliable oil supplies for the U.S. economy.

2) Ensuring that no hostile power—most notably the Soviet Union between 1946-1989 and local Arab or Iranian strongmen thereafter—gained control of the Middle East and used its wealth and oil power to disrupt the economies and security of the Western world, Europe in particular.

3) Preventing radical Islamic terrorists from carving out sanctuaries and bases of operations to attack the United States or its close allies.

4) Aiding Israel to survive in a hostile neighborhood.

5) Keeping shipping lanes in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, and the Persian Gulf open and accessible to world commerce at the historical nexus of three continents.

6) To the extent we could articulate our interests, U.S. policy was reductionist and simply deterred any other major power for any reason from dominating the quite distant region.

7) Occasionally the United States sought to limit or stop the endemic bloodletting of the region.

Those various reasons explain why we tended to intervene in nasty places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria. Yet despite the sometimes humanitarian pretenses about our inventions in the Middle East, we should remember that we most certainly did not go commensurately into central Africa or South America to prevent mass killings, genocides, or gruesome civil wars.

But two questions now arise in the 21st century: to what degree do strategic reasons remain for a strong U.S. ground presence in the Middle East and, in terms of cost-benefit analyses, how much material, human, and psychic U.S. investment is necessary to protect our interests to the extent they still matter in the region?

One of the basic things that have changed is that we (and Russia, for that matter) do not need middle eastern oil. Europe does, and China does, but both depend on the United States to make sure they get it, just as Europe depends on Russia for natural gas.

Maybe it remains in our interest for middle eastern oil to flow at reasonable prices, but maybe we should look at that again.

VDH comments that no one has ever done well trying to control the middle east. He’s right. We’ve done OK, better than most, but do we really care anymore, or is it time to let it fall back to the 11th century, with somewhat better weaponry?

Israel still matters to us, but it can (especially with its local allies) pretty much take care of itself, and we can, of course, continue our commerce and alliance with her.

Commerce is shifting to the Indian and Pacific ocean areas, and that too includes Israel who (for the first time) last year participated in a Pacific Fleet exercise. China, and India, are the future, and I doubt either are going to make too many Arab friends.

And VDH touches on war-weariness in the US (probably the UK as well). It’s real enough but is it really war weariness or simply being weary of never winning, and then get a bunch of gimmiegrants who exploit the system for our trouble.

VDH’s final words will do for me as well.

In other words, the United States is trying to square a circle, remaining strong and deterring our dangerous elements, but to do so for U.S. interests—interests that increasingly seem to be fewer and fewer in the Middle East.

Or in simpler terms, what exactly is the Middle East in the middle of anymore?

Read it all at the link above.

Looking over the Parapet

Some interesting news, for the first time in almost 50 years the British Royal Navy has two strike carriers at sea. The Queen Elizabeth is in the western Atlantic learning how best for her to operate strike aircraft and defend herself as the centerpiece of a carrier strike group. Now comes word that the Prince of Wales her sister ship has sailed for the first time from the Firth of Forth to begin her own workups, which likely won’t take as long as the QE because she is in the process of writing the book.

It should be noted that there is nothing afloat that is as powerful as these new ships, with the sole exception of US Nimitz class carriers and someday the new US Ford class. Bravo Zulu! More at The Thin Pinstriped Line. Oh, why not?

Just make sure you don’t let them fall under EU command.


Staying in Britain for the moment, for the first time ever, the Israeli Air Force is exercising over England along with the RAF, the USAF, The German Air Force, and the Italian Air Force.

Israel  sent several F-15s as well a Boeing  707s refueling planes and C130s and C130J’s

This is taking place over Lincolnshire and is known as Cobra Warrior, It is said that the RAF may take part in Israel’s Blue Flag exercise next year, which they have observed before.

Good job to all hands. More at Warsclerotic. I wanted to call those tankers C-135s since the use the flying boom that the USAF developed early in the cold war, but if you carefully at the picture you’ll notice that these aircraft have windows, KC135s co not.


If you pay much attention to either British history of British history on TV, you’ll know the name, David Starkey. He’s an excellent historian and an honest man. Here he explains the significance of Brexit and horrendous mess that May and Bercow have made. Do watch it.

You’ll not be surprised that I agree with him completely, and strongly commend him for doing this, because there is no way in hell that this would ever appear on the Fake News BBC.

Interestingly, towards the end, he speaks a good deal about the parallels between Brexit and the English Reformation under Henry VIII (his specialty, if I recall, is the Tudors). Well, maybe I’m about half as smart as I think, because I’ve always seen twp parallels in Brexit, one is the Reformation in England, and the other is the American Revolution.  Ever since the Anarchy in the thirteenth century, there has been a longing in the English to return to “the good old law”. In large measure that is what an8mated the American founders, and while we ended up starting over, not much of the good old law went into the discard.

My friends at The Conservative Woman suggest that this is also worth watching. They’re correct, so watch it too. (and it ‘s short).

Herman Wouk

Author Herman Wouk at his home in Palm Springs in 2000. (Los Angeles Times)

It’s strange how things happen. As some of you’ll be aware, I found out a few short weeks ago, while I was on break, that Herman Wouk, one of my favorite authors, was still alive at 103. That was from a post at Warsclerotic that reminded us that Winds of War/War and Remembrance are available on YouTube. I’ve been watching them (binge-watching, really).  Between them, especially the books, they form perhaps the best overall history of World War II.

That was from an article there by the site’s editor, Joseph Wouk, and I commented how much his dad’s writing, going back to The Caine Mutiny when I was perhaps eight years old, had taught me some lessons that had stood the test of time. Joseph kindly informed that his father was still alive and nearing his 104th birthday.

Sadly, he didn’t make it, dying last Friday, writing till the end. That remarkable since his first novel was published shortly after World War II, in which he served as an officer in a destroyer minesweeper, which will sound familiar to anyone who has ever read about the Caine or seen the play or movie adapted from it.

As I told Joseph, The Caine taught me much about organizations and how they work and has stuck with me. In fact, I wrote about it back in 2013, in a post titled Of Mutiny and Education.  What is interesting about what is probably a somewhat inaccurate book review in it, is that I hadn’t read the book in probably 30 years, and a fair amount of it stuck with me. And allowed me to draw lessons from it. And, you know, that article still has lessons for us, as well.

Not surprisingly he’s been eulogized all over the world. You can find quite a few at Warsclerotic. I rather like the one in the LA Times.

Herman Wouk, the prolific and immensely popular writer who explored the moral fallout of World War II in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Caine Mutiny” and other widely read books that gave Americans a raw look at the horrors and consequences of war, has died at his Palm Springs home, where he wrote many of his acclaimed novels.

Wouk, who was honored by the Library of Congress in September 2008 with its first lifetime achievement award for fiction writing, died in his sleep Friday at the age of 103, his literary agent Amy Rennert told the Associated Press. Wouk was working on a book at the time of his death, Rennert said.

As a writer, Wouk considered his most “vaultingly ambitious” work the twin novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” about “the great catastrophe of our time,” World War II. Critics, however, considered “The Caine Mutiny” to be his finest work.

Taut and focused, the book is a riveting exploration of power, personal freedom and responsibility. “Caine” won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for literature and was on the New York Times’ bestseller list for more than two years, selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and Britain in the first few years after its publication.

In the novel, Wouk creates one of American literature’s most fascinating characters, Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the U.S. destroyer-minesweeper Caine, who is removed from his command by a lower-ranking officer in the middle of a typhoon.

In one of the book’s most famous scenes, concerning the theft of the captain’s strawberries, Queeg lapses into paranoid incoherence as he is questioned during his court-martial. He pulls a pair of ball bearings from his pocket and obsessively shuffles them in his hand:

“Ah, but the strawberries! That’s, that’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I would have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer. (He pauses, realizing that he has been ranting.)

“Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory.”

Keep reading, nor would it hurt any of us to revisit these works, to learn again how we won the war, but more how we treat people to accomplish our mission, and even more, perhaps, to simply enjoy ourselves. Like a good storytelling father, Herman Wouk brings us a lesson while entertaining us with a ripping yarn.

Rest in peace sir, knowing you are missed, and your memory honored.

A vision from the Founders

The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, received the Claremont Institute’s Statesmanship Award recently. Obviously, it called for dinner and a speech. And that happened. here it is.

There’s not all that much to add. Scott Johnson wrote about it for PowerLine. Scott pulls a very good quote from it. Human Events also wrote about it, with Raheem Kassam pulling this quote…

“The Founders were keen students of human nature and history,” he said. “They saw that conflict is the normative experience for nations. Hamilton put this Federalist 34. He said, ‘To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway than the mild and [beneficial] sentiments of peace’.

“I’ll simplify,” Pompeo continued: “The Founders knew peace wasn’t the norm. And in response to this reality, the Founders knew the first duty of the federal government was to provide for the safety of its citizens. Madison said, ‘[Security] is an avowed and essential object of the American Union.’ You all know that.

“How about restraint? The Founders sought to protect our interests but avoid adventurism. The Barbary War, fought so soon after independence, was an effort of last resort to protect our vital commercial interests. The Monroe Doctrine – relevant even today – was a message of deterrence, not a license to grab land. ‘Peace and friendship,’ said Jefferson, ‘with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it. But the temper and folly of our enemies may not leave this in our choice.’

“And finally, respect,” Pompeo mused. “The Founders had recently cast off the tyranny of an empire. They were not eager to subjugate others. In 1821, John Quincy Adams wrote that America ‘goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.’ But indeed, quite the opposite: ‘She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all’.”

An excellent statement of traditional and current US foreign policy. Like all such thing, perhaps easier to promulgate than to follow in all cases, but an excellent guide. Something we have needed in the last thirty or so years.

Trumping the UN, and Cutting Our Own Throats

If you haven’t seen President Trump’s excellent speech at the UN, here it is.

There are quite a few highlights, but the only one I’ll put here is this:

We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons. We cannot allow a regime that chants “Death to America,” and that threatens Israel with annihilation, to possess the means to deliver a nuclear warhead to any city on Earth. Just can’t do it.

Long ago, like Lou Aguilar at The American Spectator, I saw the 1953 movie The War of the Worlds. I remember it much the way he does, especially this:

The setup comes soon after the A-bomb fail. A desperate general tells physicist Gene Barry (in a superb stoic performance) that there’s nothing more his military can do against the Martian war machine, and the last best hope for Earth is for Barry’s band of scientists to develop some sort of chemical weapon. They drive trucks full of scientific equipment into the last city standing, Los Angeles, only to have its panicked residents manhandle Barry, smash his equipment, and seize the truck in a suicidal attempt to flee the Martians. “They cut their own throats!” declares the shaken Barry to his colleagues.

The image of a berserk crowd destroying its best long-term bet for illusory gain could be a metaphor for the upcoming midterm elections. Under the management of Donald Trump and the Republicans, this country has seldom been in finer shape. It enjoys record-high employment, consumer confidence, stock value, and rising wages. Two nuclear threats have been reduced, and a terrorist caliphate dissolved to attain that most elusive balance of peace and prosperity. And none are benefiting more from this condition than the three pillars of progressive identity politics — blacks, Hispanics, and women. Black, Latino, and female unemployment have never been lower.

He is exactly correct. These are by almost any measure, the good old days, and they are improving by the week. But what are we seeing? A slow moving soft coup in the government, a revolt of the opposition party who is putting their thugs into the streets, just as the Blackshirts and Brownshirts were in Italy and Germany in the 20s and 30s. Not to mention the spectacle of one of the best judges in the country dragged through the mud (not of his creation) for partisan political purposes. The whole garish spectacle has become sickening, and must be tamped down, or we will see violence in the streets.

This is all quite literally insane. It threatens the freedom of the United States, and cannot be tolerated. Jefferson wrote in The Declaration of Independence, and we all believe that: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Surely, one does not throw prudence to the wind when things are going well for almost everyone. Only a deluded fool or an ideologue (often the same thing) would even think of such a thing. But that is where the United States is.

Well, in just a few weeks we will have an election, the projections run from a blue wave to a red tide, with the blue wave getting more press (given the press’ bias, that should surprise no one) but even conservative pollsters are warning of such a thing

But Lou’s last paragraph is spot on so it will end my post as well.

It really is a War of the Worlds, between the real world and a fantasy one. Right now, the fantasists are leading. If people vote them into power this November, they will be cutting their own throats.

American Sovereignty

The other day, National Security Director John Bolton made an official address to the Federalist Society. He said some important things.

“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

One of many things I like about Bolton (and President Trump, for that matter) is that he doesn’t mince words, he says exactly what he means, and means what he says as well. Very refreshing in a public servant.

Scott Johnson at PowerLine had some thoughts on the address, as well.

It is a great speech. It is an educational speech. It is an inspiring speech. Bolton speaks from deep knowledge of the subject. As he relates: “I was honored to lead US efforts internationally to protect Americans from the court’s unacceptable overreach, starting with un-signing the Rome Statute. At President [George W.] Bush’s direction, we next launched a global diplomatic campaign to protect Americans from being delivered into the ICC’s hands. We negotiated about 100 binding, bilateral agreements to prevent other countries from delivering US personnel to the ICC. It remains one of my proudest achievements.”

Paul Mirengoff also at PowerLine adds this.

I have personal experience with the ICC. In the late 1990s, I was part of a team of lawyers that defended a war crimes case before that body.

Of the three judges who heard the case, only one was from a well-functioning democracy. In fact, if memory serves, one of the judges was from China.

Aspects of the proceedings were quite alien to our justice system. The main piece of evidence against our client was hearsay that was subject to no exception recognized in American law. It was admitted, “in the interests of justice.” The interests of justice as perceived by foreign judges, including one from China.

Looking over the current roster of ICC judges, my impression is that fewer of them come from undemocratic nations. On the other hand, Europe is now more anti-Israel and, indeed, more anti-U.S. than it was twenty years ago.

Paul, in particular, knows of what he speaks. It’s well out of my field. But one does not have to be a lawyer to realize that if one is an American (or an Israeli) it is never going to be a good idea to let an American be judged according to Chinese (or European, for that matter) standards. We have maintained our freedom against all comers for more than 240 years by asserting our sovereignty. By all means, including war itself.

Almost a hundred years ago, we refused to ratify the Versailles Treaty ending the First World War, even though President Wilson was one of the key architects of it because we realized that the League of Nations infringed on our sovereignty, and thereby imperiled out citizens’ freedoms. Nothing has changed except the name of the players.

Here’s the speech:

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