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.

What’s Going On in Iran?

Have you been following the (mostly non-) news from Iran? Interesting isn’t it? China and Hong Kong, Iran and the Iranian people, plus the Iraqis and the Lebanese, it’s almost like people like being free. The best I’ve seen is Michael Ledeen in FrontPage Magazine.

The country is on fire. All classes, all tribes from the Persians to the Kurds are fighting the security forces and the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij, and an increasingly divided Hezbollah. The leaders of the regime are unrestrained in their crackdown. In order to keep their actions as far as possible from public view, the leaders have killed off the internet links with the outside world, and despite American boasts that Washington can turn on the internet at will, the regime has kept communications with Iranians at historic minima.

The proximate cause of these demonstrations was an overnight increase in the cost of gasoline. I say “proximate cause” because the anti-regime outbursts had been ongoing for months, if not years. The increased price for gasoline was significant, but not decisive. So far as I can determine, the crowds of demonstrators chanted political slogans, not economic ones. They wanted an end to the Islamic Republic, not lower prices for gas.

The Iranian eruption is only one of many in the region, as Lebanese and Iraqis also joined the protest against Tehran. Iraqis, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, called for an end to the Hezbollah domination of the country as part of a general demand for a thoroughgoing political transformation.

The most radical demand is the downfall of the whole sectarian, political Islamist system. This is the first and most important demand in Tahrir Square — they want a separation of religion and politics. This demand includes the government resigning, especially Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the prime minister.

Now mind, these guys aren’t asking for American boots, they want to be free, but on their terms, which are unlikely to be anything acceptable to Washington, let alone the heartland. But it’s their countries and their people. We can, perhaps, aid and abet a bit, but it’s up to them, to structure their lives as they see fit.

Because make no mistake, Iran under its present rulers is an implacable foe of the United States and keeps us from doing other things in the region that we should be doing. But this isn’t something, like Hong Kong, where one side is demanding democracy on the Anglo-American model.

Why that warning? Morris Ayek witing in en.qantara.de may have that answer.

Here, too, the distinctiveness of Arabic – although it has the same meaning in other languages – is useful in looking at Arab civil wars as wars between social entities. Non-Arab civil wars such as the Russian, the French, the Spanish, the Greek and so forth were between citizens. Groups that identify themselves through modern ideologies and institutions aim at the triumph of these ideologies. Indeed, they may be seen as a concomitant struggle in transition.

Arab civil wars, on the other hand, are wars between kinsfolk, however they may appear in their early stages. The social group becomes partisan, whether sectarian, tribal, party political or ethnic. The key difference between the two types of conflicts is that Arab civil wars have no end. In the non-Arab world, it is the ideology which is defeated, whilst with us Arabs, there can be no end. The Sunni, the Shia, the Alawite and the Christian will remain, like the Arab, the Kurd and the South Sudanese.

Social ties are the true driver

The only point of Arab civil wars is dominion, which is characterised by warlords who live by perpetuating war as a source of wealth, subjugating and plundering. They differ from other civil wars, in which each warring party has sought to build an economy with which to replenish resources and to guarantee victory. Ironically, this revenue-generating model is similar to the normal workings of an Arab economy.

Quite a lot more at the link, and I think it summarized pretty well why Anglo-American style democracy is not going to break out any time soon in the Middle East.

 

Sunday Funnies, Zero Bark Thirty

Well, another week, and we should all be an hour’s worth better rested. We’ve had worse weeks, but we’ve had better too. Life is like that.

 

 

 

From the Babylon Bee, of course

 

 

 

Worth Remembering

And, of course

The Week, mostly on Twitter

From Breitbart:

The House held hearings on reparations the other day. I doubt the Democrats liked what Super Bowl Champion Safety Burgess Owens had to say. But I do and I suspect many of you will as well.

Pretty much a nuclear truth bomb – delivered from orbit.


Senator Tom Cotton is not pleased that so many corporations are explicitly pushing liberal dogma, especially infanticide abortion on their employees and the rest of us. Here’s why: [via Ace].

I’m very rapidly turning into a huge fan of Senator Cotton. I just ordered his book on his tour with the 3d Infantry (the Old Guard) as well.

His points here are welcome ones. Too often we in business forget there are many things more important than the bottom line, especially the quarterly one, which is the one a lot of libertarians and finance types think is the be all and end all.

Floppy Joe Biden inserted his foot in his mouth the other day (yes, I know, a regular occurrence) about getting along with segregationists (not to mention racists) in the old days. Senator Cotton had something to add to that, as well. [via The Right Scoop]

Yes, indeed. It is long past time that we call the Demonrats out every time they try to shift the scumbags off on us. Good on both of you Senator and Mr. Trump.

Speaking of Trump, President Trump in this case, his campaign kickoff the other night was amazingly good.

John Hinderaker at PowerLine calls him a force of nature. I agree, and in so being he makes America one once again. And I note that CNN couldn’t stand the heat and cut off the broadcast as soon as he started talking about them and the rest of the fake news media. Typical. They spent a fair amount of time wingeing, but then they made their bed and they can damned well lie in it. With luck, it will be their deathbed.

And along that line, you’ll know that Iran shot down an American drone the other night. Apparently, the return strike was aborted at about T-30 seconds. Nobody knows why the President so decided, but the Mullahs would be very wise to consider it a final warning.


I hear we are going to start mass deportations of illegal immigrants next week, starting, I trust with lawbreakers and troublemakers. Not everybody is pleased.

So, it’s pretty obvious if Senator Harris thinks that removing these illegal immigrants, who are forbidden to vote in federal elections is changing the electorate, it follows that Senator Harris’ party has been attempting to change the electorate by using illegal immigration and also by committing vote fraud which is a felony.

Probably shouldn’t have said that for the record, Senator, but few have accused you of intelligence, most people who sleep their way to a better job aren’t too bright after all.

Making Sense of American Conservatism

And so, time to start trying to make sense of the world again, I guess, Matthew Continetti has a long piece up at The Washington Free Beacon called Making Sense of the New American Right. It’s a valiant effort at a nearly impossible subject. Let’s look.

The story goes that, for many years, American conservatives adhered to a consensus known as “fusionism.” Economic and social conservatives put aside their differences. Freedom, they decided, was necessary for the exercise of virtue. The struggle against and ultimate defeat of the Soviet Union was more important than domestic politics or intramural disagreements. Conservative intellectuals eager to privilege either freedom or virtue like to attack this consensus, which they often describe as “zombie Reaganism.” The truth is that the strength of fusionism always has been exaggerated. The conservative intellectual movement has been and continues to be fractious, contentious, combustible, and less of a force than most assume.

Episodes of division and strife are far more common than moments of unity and peace. The more you study the history of American conservatism, the less willing you are to describe it in monolithic terms. There isn’t one American right, there are multitudes, every one of them competing for the attention of politicians and policymakers. The most prominent and politically salient varieties, as expressed in William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review, Irving Kristol’s Public Interest, Norman Podhoretz’s Commentary, and William Kristol’s Weekly Standard, have weakened or disappeared altogether. One of the reasons the intra-conservative argument has become so personal and acrimonious is that nothing has replaced them.

Indeed, the situation today is awfully similar to that which confronted conservatives in the 1970s. Then, the Buckley consensus had to find a modus vivendi with neoconservatives as well as with the Catholic integralists around Triumph magazine, against the background of a populist revolt that called out failing elites while relying on racial and ethnic appeals that sometimes crossed the border of decency.

Indeed, that consensus is what many of us to today deride as ‘cocktail party conservatism’. It is one of the things that Donald Trump blew up on his way to the White House, with the willing help of many of us. We also tend to believe these are the people who gave us never-ending wars, mostly to enrich their friends, while denigrating our troops.

The rise of Donald Trump, Brexit, and nation-state populism throughout the world certainly suggest that something has changed in global politics. American conservatism ought to investigate, recognize, and assimilate the empirical reality before it. The trouble is that no one has concluded definitively what that reality is.

Not for lack of trying. Beginning in 2016, intellectuals who favored Trump have been searching for a new touchstone for conservative thought and politics. These writers are often described as populists, but that label is hard to define. Broadly speaking, they have adopted the banner of nationalism. They believe the nation-state is the core unit of geopolitics and that national sovereignty and independence are more important than global flows of capital, labor, and commodities. They are all, in different ways, reacting to perceived failures, whether of Buckley conservatism, George W. Bush’s presidency, or the inability of the conservative movement to stop same-sex marriage and the growth of the administrative state. And they have turned away from libertarian arguments and economistic thinking. Not everything, these thinkers believe, can be reduced to gross domestic product.

And that is an important concept. Too many, whom some call the ‘Chamber of Commerce’ Republicans do believe it is all about the GDP. And what is even worse, they tend to believe the best GDP is taken from the quarterly balance sheet. This very short term thinking has led to the deindustrialization of the US (and Britain and some other nations). There is nothing wrong in profit-seeking, but there is in putting short term profit ahead of the firms long term best interest. And that is what I see all too often.

That is rather the foundation of what we are going to be talking about, there is a lot out there, both in the linked article and some others. So much that there is at least one but probably two (maybe more) articles in it to talk about, since I write articles and not books here. So let’s discuss this much and we’ll continue, hopefully, tomorrow, if the creek doesn’t rise too much.

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.

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