September 29, 2005

Mailbag

We get nice mail for a change!

I have previously written you about my own frustrations and disgrace at defending this administration about the war in iraq, but I would just like to write you a brief note to let you know that you are by far the most coherent, reasonable and honest blogger I have seen so far concerning the the war. I honestly believe, to the core, that it is of the utmost importance to american security that we succeed (whatever that may be at this point) in iraq and I think you provide a noble and needed service by holding those in charge's feet to the fire regarding the conduct of the war.

keep up the good work up, b/c when all is said and written, history will look back on people such as yourself (not the cheerleaders) as the disregarded minority who truly wanted to win this war. blind support of the war does not equate to advancing its goals, i wish more people would recognize this. the way things are going, if this war fails, conservatives will blame liberal opposition for the failed iraq policy, but in reality it is these very conservative pundits who purport to hold accountability and ability as their standards (as do I), but failed to apply these valuable principles to their own leaders who will be at fault.


Posted by Gregory at 11:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2005

The Mailbag

Eric Martin, who writes at this thoughtful lefty blog, sends the below in:

Greg, you wrote: "Ditto Governor Kathleen Blanco--who was simply too slow to declare a national emergency..." I'm not sure what partisan site you got that misinformation from, but it is misinformation. Blanco declared a State of Emergency for Louisiana on August 26. Link She made a formal request to President Bush for the area to be declared a National Emergency on August 27. Link On August 27, responding to Blanco's request, the White House issued a National Emergency: Link You owe it to your readers to correct this mis-statement of fact. How can you characterize an effort as "too slow" when in fact she called for a national emergency the day BEFORE the hurricane hit.

You're better than this Greg.

In an E-mail back to Eric, I took his criticism but queried whether Blanco may still have waited a tad too long--perhaps she might have requested a state of national emergency be declared before August 26th, as many already feared the hurricane might score a direct hit on New Orleans (and other parts of Louisiana) even before then.

To which Eric replied:

The claim that Blanco was too slow to act was predicated on a piece of misinformation from an "undisclosed White House source" quoted in the Washington Post. Given the track record, probably Rove. Here is the offending quote from the WaPo:

"As of Saturday, [Louisiana governor Kathleen] Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, [a] senior Bush official said."

That would be Saturday September 3. Which is approximately eight days after Blanco actually declared a state of emergency and one week after she made the request nationally - which was granted by the way on the same day. The Washington Post had to retract this statement because they were so off base.

In answer to your question, no I don't think she waited too long. The National Weather Center was only forecasting a Cat 2 up until August 27. On the 27, the day after she declared a state of emergency in the State of Louisiana, and the day on which she asked for national emergency, Katrina was upgraded to a Cat 3. She acted exactly when it was appropriate.

As for the timeline, I think we were both off on the day Katrina made landfall. It was actually the 29th so Blanco declared a statewide state of emergency three days prior to landfall. Two days prior to landfall she asked and received the national emergency status.

Someone in the White House tried to claim she waited five days. That would have been too long. Two days before the hurricane hit was reasonable given it was considered a Cat 2 up until that point.

This sounds like a pretty fair appraisal. Anyone have a different view on this particular Katrina narrative?


Posted by Gregory at 02:47 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

May 08, 2005

Mailbag

A reader, on the ground in Iraq with Centcom, sends in the below:

Gregory, I was just reading your comments on "A Brief Note on Iraq" and the return of Leslie Gelb from a ten-day fact finding trip to Iraq. I've been here for about the last fifteen months or so. I'm not sure after fifteen months of fact-finding I really understand Iraq either. Of course, I am not talking to 75% of the leadership, but I do have eyes and ears to help gauge the situation. I don't want to point by point with the interview, it isn't useful and I don't think it would accomplish much. Gelb does say, however:

"One of the main conclusions I came away with from the trip was that we hardly know what is going on. I spent 10 very intensive days there. . . .. I spent a lot of time talking to Iraqis, listening to them, and I don't feel I know what was going on there."

Maybe I am picking at bones. But isn't it rather clear what is going on? I mean it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there are some that hope to use fear and violence to snuff out the fragile electoral process. The number of attacks go up and the number go down. If you look at the attacks over say, the last eight months or so, you'll see that the number has remained relatively constant, between fifty and a hundred a day, except for two peaks (Ramadan and the run up to the elections). Meanwhile, the enemy is using up personnel right and left and gaining no traction among the populace. What did Iraqis see just before the election in the OBL to Zawaquiri letter? They saw a Saudi telling a Jordanian to kill Iraqis. Yeah. That will gain a lot of support in Iraq. Yep.

I think the enemy is getting desperate. They are trying a number of different techniques attempting to find one that will give them some traction. They've tried the big attacks at the AG Prison and out west on the Syrian border. Both failed. They were routed at the lakeside camp a month ago. They were rolled up in Fallujah last November. They continue to try to spark a religious war between the Shia and Sunni, and it is not working. A recent internal letter says that they are becoming de-moralized. You know, the largest battles of the Pacific campaign in WWII came just before the end of the war. So too it seems we are seeing that sort of desperate effort now. Yes, the body count is high, the enemy is going after very soft targets. But every day, volunteers line up for Police training, Army training, National Guard training or other support for the new government. And, the enemy know it. The enemy knows that success here means even more 'problems' for their home countries. You know, suicide (homicide) bombings are not part of the Iraqi culture. What does that tell you? You've heard, no doubt, that some of these VBIED drivers have been chained to the steering wheels. . . You can't make this stuff up.

One can hope the recent uptick in violence in Iraq is born of a last ditch "desperate effort." And, of course, my correspondent has a better feel for the general situation--from his on the ground vantage point for over a year--than B.D. does blogging from London or New York. The biggest factor in our favor (which he and Les Gelb both point out), in my view, is simply that the fanatical tactics of the insurgents are simply not winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Assuming that train and equip proceeds apace, and that we have an Iraqi Army willing to effectively fight and die for the New Iraq, I remain reasonably confident that the insurgency will ultimately be vanquished. The next major challenge, in all likelihood, will be a U.S. stablization role with regard to increasing Sunni-Shia tensions (while political governance structures hopefully continue to take root that allow for moderates to inhabit the fledging national institutions).

From the NYT:

Sunnis also largely boycotted the January elections, a decision that many of them now regret. With only 17 representatives in Iraq's 275-member National Assembly, they are entirely dependent on the good will of the Shiites and Kurds for any role in the new government.

A further problem is the lack of any cohesive Sunni political bloc. When negotiations over the Defense Ministry and other cabinet posts opened, several Sunni groups put forward separate lists of cabinet nominees instead of banding together on one.

The lack of unity arises from several factors. Sunnis in Iraq were in charge and never had to take shelter in communal loyalties, as Shiites and Kurds did. Sunni Islam does not have the kind of religious hierarchy that makes Shiites rally around their ayatollahs. As a result, many Sunnis still do not take their primary sense of identify from their religion. More than their Kurdish and Shiite counterparts, they have resisted the sectarian trend that has swept Iraq over last two years, and prefer to call themselves simply Iraqis.

But that is starting to change. Even cosmopolitan figures like Adnan Pachachi, the 81-year-old Iraqi elder statesman, have begun to drop their secular language and cast themselves primarily as Sunnis. Mr. Pachachi now says he hopes to build a Sunni political and religious coalition that might rival the Shiite alliance formed under Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Mr. Qaisi, as it happens, conceived the idea of uniting Iraq's Sunnis in early 2003, during a trip to Mount Ararat, near Mecca. Within a few months he had gathered 85 leaders of Sunni groups across Iraq, secular and religious. But that group eventually fell victim to partisan bickering. Last year Mr. Qaisi tried again, forming his current coalition, the National Dialogue Council.

Mr. Qaisi says he believes in nonviolence. His three wives are all Shiites, he says, so he understands the Shiite point of view.

Still, his Sunni nationalism has taken on a darker edge. Where he and other Sunnis once reserved most of their bile for the American occupation, he is now much angrier about Iraq's Shiite leadership.

During a raid on his house last year, American soldiers threw his pregnant daughter to the floor, and she later miscarried, he said, and his son was so frightened that he has become mentally ill. But Mr. Qaisi seems far less angry at the American troops than at the Shiite militia members who were also in on the raid.

"If the U.S. troops came alone, we would shake their hand," Mr. Qaisi said. "But they brought our enemies with them."

Behind the Shiite religious parties, Mr. Qaisi sees a darker foe: Iran. Like a number of other Sunni politicians, he has taken to calling the Shiite leaders "Safawis" - an allusion to the Safavid rulers who came from what is now Iran to conquer Iraq in the 17th century.

Most tellingly, Mr. Qaisi has a perception of Iraq's most fundamental realities that is utterly opposed to that of the Shiites. He and many other Sunnis believe that much of the terrorism ostensibly carried out by Sunni fighters is in fact directed and financed by Iran. He even says that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist whose network often attacks Shiite mosques and civilians, is largely a front for Iran's Shiite government.

Mr. Qaisi refuses to believe that Shiites make up 60 percent of the population, the figure that has been widely accepted inside and outside Iraq for a number of years. Instead, he believes they are closer to 30 percent - less, he adds, than Iraq's Sunnis.

B.D. has previously predicted that an important phenomenon to monitor will increasingly be that of growing Shi'a hostility towards U.S. forces with, concomitantly, less Sunni belligerency aimed at the Americans. Much like, say, in Kosovo--today's liberators quickly become tomorrow's oppressors (recall how quickly the Kosovo Liberation Army turned from jubilance at the arrival of the NATO cavalry to attacking those same forces once they were perceived to have gone from liberators to protectors of Serbian minority rights). Many Shi'a (Sadrists aside) were thrilled that the Sunni-centric, Saddamite yoke was lifted by the U.S. invasion. Down the road, however, as the U.S. takes a lead role in ensuring minority rights are respected and that Sunnis wield real power in the national government, we may well see Shi'a appearing the ingrates rapidly indeed as they rail against American forces holding them back from their maximalist goals vis-a-vis their previous Sunni oppressors. This is a hugely important dynamic that will need to be monitored closely in the months ahead. And it's also a reason a significant presence in Iraq must continue to be counted in years not months. B.D. does not count himself as one that believes an Iraqi civil war is inevitable. But a precipitous drawing down of U.S. forces would certainly increase the chances of sectarian discord scuttling the democratization process in Iraq.



Posted by Gregory at 07:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 06, 2005

Reader Mailbag

Sanjay Krishnaswamy writes in:

While I love the items on your scorecard--and who couldn't be thrilled? (Don't answer that; I know)--I think you're way under tally. The simple fact is that while the administration has achieved great things in the Middle East, despite its naysayers, I still am actually more impressed with Bush/Powell/Rice's maneuvering in Asia, and that too has borne a lot of fruit in the last month. I think that Japan's agreeing to militarily support the US in defending Taiwan against China is-- well, intellectually it is as amazing as elections in the Middle East, even if it's not as thrilling. And I think Bush decided early on to handle North Korea (which, let's not forget, may be the biggest problem in the world) by starting to build a sort of new Asian security group--and that paid big dividends too last month. I still think that the biggest foreign policy miracle of this administration is the simultaneous improvement of relations with Pakistan, India, China and Japan --- so much so that those last three were actively pulling for Mr. Bush's re-election. It's not to downplay the amazing stuff in the Middle East; only your scorecard has to look at global success stories and there've been no small number this past month outside of the Arab world.

We sometimes get a bit too EuroMed-centric over here at B.D.; and I hope to redress that in the coming year. It's a big world out there.

Posted by Gregory at 05:40 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 28, 2005

Reader Mail

Hey. I am an avid reader of your blog, and I wanted to say thank you for your excellent writing, and for your integrity.

I did want to point out, however, that I think it's unfair for you to frame your "why people hate Bush" in the context of a discussion of an idiot like Ward Churchill. I am a political moderate who is conservative on foreign policy and relatively liberal on domestic issues, and though I do not "hate" George Bush, I strongly dislike him. Not because he "speaks in plain English" and not because I "think he's an idiot," but I truly believe that deep down he lacks integrity. Republicans used to relentlessly assault President Clinton for his lawyer-speak and his dubious domestic life - and most of the time, rightfully so - but they do not speak up when Bush appoints a hack like Alberto Gonzales to be the supreme law enforcer of our country, when he spends millions of dollars on an inauguration that supposedly "honors" the soldiers but in reality does nothing of the sort, and when he is dishonest about the sacrifice that is necessary among Americans to win the war in Iraq and to fight terrorism in generally. When Republicans deployed a near-senile Zel Miller to rage against John Kerry with a laundry list of lies during the RNC, Republicans cheered. Well, I did not.

I supported the war in Iraq and I still do. And I even like Don Rumsfeld. You get a fuller picture of the man when you understand a bit about national security. Like you, though, I think Rumsfeld's time has come and passed, and he should be replaced. I only say this to give you an idea of where I stand on some important issues.

In short, for me and for a lot of others, it's about integrity. You harp on the Dowdesque morons that admittedly comprise a part of the population of Manhatten, but you ignore the arguments of the moderates and conservatives who intensely dislike Bush. These are the people I know, the people who reluctantly voted for John Kerry, the "Kerry-haters for Kerry" if you will. And though I agree with most of your arguments, it is difficult to reconcile them with your support for a man, President Bush, who while possessing some great qualities, I believe has been detrimental to our country.

And here's another:

I was moved to write you for 2 reasons today. First of all, congratulations on making it through your second year. Second, and more importantly, thank you for your comments today and your support for the Bush Doctrine and the war on terror over the years. Many people seem not to understand the urgency or the importance of the threat. You always seem to get it and I wanted to thank you for that and encourage you to continue the great work. Many people seem to idly use the phrase "post 9-11 world" without understanding the magnitude of what happened that day. In my opinion, as someone who lost a younger brother on that awful day, Bush was moved in a way that few who did not experience loss first hand ever can be. He became a President sure of his convictions, comfortable with his decisions, and confident that he was right. To me these are important qualities in a leader. Maybe the most important.

Neither reader requested I treat their E-mail anonymously but, given that they felt somewhat personal, I have.


Posted by Gregory at 11:16 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 21, 2005

The Mailbag

So I guess some of my readers have a different view of Bush's Inaugural speech than B.D.'s.

Here's one E-mail I just got:

I thought Bush's inaugural speech was the height of Orwellian hypocrisy. So our President has "freedom" on his mind, eh? If Bush ever gets around to holding another news conference during the next four years, perhaps some clear-thinking reporter might ask him the following: When will he also call for democracy in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, the UAE, Pakistan, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain? Each of these is an autocracy or a theocracy ruled by either a general, a king, or a family. And there's just one little problem: Each is a strong ally of ours. One of our strongest allies, Jordan, has been ruled for decades by a single family notorious for its use of torture--to such an extent that during interrogations, we often tell our captives that we will send them to be interrogated in Jordan in an attempt to scare them into divulging information. Similarly, Egypt, which has been ruled for decades by the same man, is notorious for its corruption, use of torture and lack of due process.

Why are these nations exempt from our calls for democracy and regime change? Because they are our "allies"?

The war in Iraq is not about prevailing militarily nor is it only about Iraq. We are in a battle against our own hypocrisy, because that hypocrisy defines us in the eyes of the people to whom we are trying to export democracy. If our strategy for spreading democracy entails fighting a war to re-install an Emir in Kuwait, or for decades to cozy up to an autocratic regime in Jordan known for its use of torture, or to openly support a General who seized power in Pakistan and refuses to hold elections, or to coddle a "gentle tyrant" in Egypt, Arabs aren't interested in what we're selling. Of course, there's no need to mention our history with heroes of democracy like the Shah, because everyone in the Arab world---especially in Iran---remembers.

Instead of nodding compliantly every time Bush repeats the absurd bromide "they hate us for our way of life" over the next four years, will anyone ever break the news to our President that we are hated in the Middle East for our hypocrisy and not our freedom?

Or are we citizens not supposed to be thinking that clearly?

Hey, tell me what you really think! As ever, sober reader feedback, both via comments and E-mail (belgraviadispatch@hotmail.com) welcome. My take on the inaugural speech here. It's rather different, of course--though I think we do share some similar concerns in part.

UPDATE: Pej, in comments: "Perhaps you could tell your correspondent that it would help his/her credibility if he/she knew that Iranians aren't Arabs and that Iran is not part of "the Arab world." Indeed, that's quite a whopper. And it's something that is quite often overlooked or, even worse, simply unknown (by many). P.S. Estimable blogospheric personages have committed this sin w/r/t to "Arab" Pakistanis, too.

Posted by Gregory at 03:20 AM | Comments (52)

November 30, 2004

In the Mail

I've been corresponding a bit with Michael Ledeen of AEI. Here's the text of an E-mail I got from him not too long ago that I think he won't mind me re-printing here:

Dear Greg: Not to worry, I greatly appreciate thoughtful criticism. And obviously I like what you do; otherwise I wouldn't read, let alone post. But I don't think you've really listened to me. Can you please slow down for a sec [ed. note: Isn't it normally "faster, please!" with Michael?]? Now listen up: 1. I have never--never ever ever never--advocated military action against Iran. Nor do I know anyone who does. That whole "criticism" is a total red herring. Faggetit. 2. I am one of very few people who forecast, many months before Operation Iraqi Freedom--the current situation. And on that basis, I was opposed to the military campaign against Iraq. I said we should first demonstrate our political intention (liberation, not occupation) by creating "Free Iraq Zones" in the north and south, and inviting the Iraqi people to abandon Saddam and come live like free men and women. That way we would have gutted the Baathist state. We might even have gotten plenty of defectors. 3. My monotonous call for action against Iran has always been a call for support for democratic revolution. Always. To repeat, NOT NOT NOT military action. 4. People like Pollack don't think it can succeed. I can't imagine why they believe that. When I went into the Reagan Administration in 1981, along with a handful of other Scoop Jackson Democrats, we believed we could bring down the Soviet Union peacefully. Everybody thought we were nuts. Eppur, si muove. We did it, with maybe, what? ten percent of the population willing to take active risks to bring down the regime? In Iran, according to the mullahs' own polls, we've got upwards of SEVENTY percent who hate the regime, and lots of those have showed a willingness to take to the streets and challenge the tyrants. If we had an administration willing to support the president's brave words about spreading freedom, with appropriate policies--support for the farsi language broadcasters, financial help to potential strikers in key sectors, communications devices to people inside, etc. etc. and perhaps some guidance on effective forms of non-violent revolution--I think chances for success are excellent. Ditto for Syria, by the way, but Iran is much more important and much more urgent. I have very little to say about the "peace process," except that I can't imagine why anyone thinks it can work, when for fifty years the smartest people in the world have failed. Bush seems to think that, as freedom spreads in the region, the Palestinians will get a representative government and then it will be possible. Maybe. But for that to happen, the "terror masters" have to be defeated. First. So I think Palestine/Israel is a post-war issue. Defeat the terror masters and you've got a chance. Leave the tyrants in place and it's hopeless. All this is in "The War Against the Terror Masters," written many months before we went into Iraq. Think revolution, comrade, not invasion. I was recently rereading R.R. Palmer's wonderful "The Age of the Democratic Revolution," and kept saying 'wow.'

I'll have more on all this soon. What I did want to say now, however, is that to the extent that I've portrayed Michael Ledeen's Iran position as simply 'bombs away'--ie, full-fledged invasion now--I may have been guilty of some hyperbole and apologize to him and my readers for that. That said, the idea of "free zones" (whether Iraqi or Iranian ones) is a very perilous and slippery slope indeed. I'll address Michael's points soon.

Posted by Gregory at 12:54 PM | Comments (7)

November 07, 2004

Van Gogh Mailbag

I've been getting lots of mail in reaction to my post about Theo van Gogh's murder. A lot of people think I'm being overly simplistic in equating a murder in Amsterdam to battles in the Sunni Triangle. Others seem to be interpreting my post as some call to arms against Islam generally. It is nothing of the sort. I believe Islam is one of the world's greatest religions and that it merits the utmost respect (I find all the tiresome, repetitive blogospheric chatter denigrating the "ROP" as moronic as the "proud member of the reality based community" crapola). That said, of course, there are far too many radical Islamists who have perverted Islamic tenets and turned them to fanatical, brutish ends. (After 9/11, that's what every Muslim cabbie in NYC couldn't wait to tell me--"these men were not real Muslims"! they would scream emphatically--as the smoke continued to billow from Ground Zero).

Put differently, I don't think a massive Huntingtonian clash of civilizations is nigh. That's not what I meant when I spoke of a "grand ideological battle" in my post on the van Gogh murder. What I meant, really, what that there must be a battle within Islam to purge the most radical Islamists. And we (ie, the non-spectating West) must stand ready to assist the Mubaraks, Allawis, Abdullahs in this fight. Which is why we need to often hold our noses and support people like Crown Prince Abdullah (better than Prince Nayef); or Musharraf (better than more radical elements in the ISI), or Allawi (better than Sadr and such) and so on. And, while supporting such authoritarians (today martial law was declared in Iraq; a not uncoincidental timing post-U.S. election); we must also balance this realpolitik with varied initiatives aimed at producing greater democratization--albeit in calibrated fashion lest religious and/or populist resurgences sprout up that are anathema to the U.S. national interest.

Important in all this, and not discussed often enough, is improving our public diplomacy in the region. We are letting, too often, others describe American intentions to the region. We need to explain what we are up to--more clearly, more loudly, in Arabic, often, and through varied fora. For instance, the European view (more prevalent there, perhaps, than in the Middle East, somewhat ironically) of Dubya as a messianic figure--something of a Christian warrior--must be loudly rebutted. Here is a typical cartoon from today's Le Monde:

le monde carton.bmp

The caption reads: "l'armée américaine pręte ŕ l'assaut de Fallouja." Bolstering such theses, you have AFP stories like these.

I am distressed by how widespread such stereotypical stories have become in Europe and the Middle East (in Europe, elites use them as a handy way to relativize UBL and Dubya--both religious nutters, to a fashion, the thinking goes). Look, Dubya went into Iraq, not because of evangelical enthusiasm to prostelyize through Mesopotamia and the Levant--but because of a confluence of factors, in my view: 1) post 9/11 WMD fears (60%); 2) unfinished Poppy business and assorted pyschological impulses thereto (20%), 3) Saddam was 'evil', ie the humanitarian argument (10%); and 4) Afghanistan seemed, well, too quick somehow, and the American behemoth, bloodied on 9/11, sought to push along what Richard Haass has called the "geopolitical momentum." (10%) (2)-(4), in my view, are mostly poppy-cock (ie, as valid reasons for the U.S. to have gone in--though 3/4 are quasi-legit on some levels). But, my point here is only that this isn't a religious war--that didn't factor into the decision-making process at all (are we converting Afghans and Iraqis to Christianity or such? Of course not.) Just because Bush shucked Jack Daniels for Jesus doesn't mean he is a religious fanatic hell-bent on bringing back the Crusades. To so argue, as so many in Europe do, is hugely hyperbolic. Consider how often American Presidents, historically, have used religious imagery with frequency in their speech-making. Regardless, we need to better beat back this myth as it is dangerous if it begins to gain too much credence in the Arab world.

Nor should we be so pessimistic about some inexorably poor fate for Christian-Islamic relations. Read this article for some interesting background. Some key passages:

There is a serious point underlying such anecdotes, for they show that throughout history, Muslims and Christians have traded, studied, negotiated, and loved across the porous frontiers of religious differences. Probe relations between the two civilizations at any period of history, and you find that the neat civilizational blocks imagined by writers such as Bernard Lewis or Samuel Huntington soon dissolve. It is true that just as there have been some strands of Christian thinking that have always been deeply hostile to Islam, so within Islam there have been schools of thought that have always harbored a deep hostility toward Christians, Jews, and other non-Islamic religions and civilizations, notably the Wahhabi and Salafi schools dominant in modern Saudi Arabia. Until this century, however, the Wahhabis were a theological movement of only localized significance and were widely regarded by most Muslims as an alien sect bordering on infidelity—kufr. It is the oil wealth of modern Saudi Arabia that has allowed the Wahhabis to spread their narrow-minded and intolerant brand of Islam, notably by the funding of extremist Wahhabi, Salafi, and Deobandi madrasas across the Islamic world since the mid-1970s, with the disastrous results we see today.

My point in my prior post re: van Gogh, of course, what that if the Sunni Triangle becomes a zone dominated by jihadists influenced by Wahhabists or Salafists, we will have handed a major victory to the radical elements who kill on the streets of Amsterdam or blow up churches in Iraq. And, yeah, that Old Europe needs to step up to bat and put more money on the line to help us out given this reality.

Finally, and particularly if one believes history is destiny--we need to analyze the competing narratives re: Christian-Islamic relations in more detail.

The tortuous and complex relationship of Western Christendom and the world of Islam has provoked a wide variety of responses from historians. Some, such as the great medievalist Sir Steven Runciman, take the view (as he wrote at the end of his magisterial three-volume history of the Crusades) that "our civilization has grown" out of "the long sequence of interaction and fusion between Orient and Occident." Runciman believed that the Crusades should be understood less as an attempt to reconquer the Christian heartlands lost to Islam than as the last of the barbarian invasions. The real heirs of Roman civilization were not the chain-mailed knights of the rural West, but the sophisticated Byzantines of Constantinople and the cultivated Arab caliphate of Damascus, both of whom had preserved the Hellenized urban civilization of the antique Mediterranean long after it was destroyed in Europe.

Others have seen relations between Islam and Christianity as being basically adversarial, a long-drawn-out conflict between the two rival civilizations of East and West. As Gibbon famously observed of the Frankish victory at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD, which halted the Arab advance into Europe:

A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the Rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland: the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or the Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.

Like most things, I reckon, the truth lies somewhere in between. That is, Christian-Islamic relations fall along a spectrum of relative amity and adversity. The challenge today is to get things moving more towards the amicable pole. Bombing Fallujah isn't going to do it, yes, in the short-term. But better securing Anbar Province enough to allow elections to take place there might--taking a slightly longer view. And, of course, so will addressing political and economic liberalization in the broader Middle East, moving towards a two-state solution in the Holy Land, keeping Afghanistan on a path towards democratic self-rule, providing more aid to state-run Pakistani madrassas with 'moderate' curricula, and so on.

Posted by Gregory at 09:18 PM | Comments (36)

October 20, 2004

Heidelberg Postcard

B.D. reader DL, currently based in Germany, sends in the below report on the state of U.S.-German relations (and with apologies to my always generously 'on call' German website designer Thomas Eberle!). They're bad, of course, and DL sketches out some of the whys. Not suprisingly, he's not a big fan of Gerard Schroeder. Er, I'm not either.

The Chancellor will largely be remembered as a rank panderer and opportunist. As someone unable to address structural defects in the German economy. And, most pitiably perhaps, as someone who tried to forge, unconvincingly and ineffectively, a Franco-German union in a bid for hegemony over Euro-land emitting from Berlin/Paris via proxies in Brussels. Despite theatrical summitry of late with Zapatero, this policy has proven a sad (if predictable) failure (Iraq quite apart--the Poles, Brits, Italians would never have gone for some form of Gallic-Teuton tutelage).

Put simply, Gerhard Schroeder will go down in history as a deeply mediocre Chancellor. Now, over to DL!

Understanding German Anger

At no time in the history of U.S.ĐGerman post-war relations has there been as much German anger directed at the United States as there is today. A certain amount of turbulence is normal in any bilateral relationship, especially in one that served as the foundation of the Cold War order. But even during the deployment of Pershing II missiles, when our differences were strong enough to give birth to a political party, there were voices of reason, usually within government, that cautioned against anti-Americanism. Today those voices have disappeared. The German government is now the leading critic of the United States and it has liberated German society from an unspoken taboo. The result has been an unprecedented outpouring of anti-American sentiment in the media and among the populace.

Germans would like us to believe our President is the reason. Their litany of his supposed affronts to world order is long. But underlying the criticism of American policy is a foundation of anti-Americanism that has just as little to do with our President as it does with the Kyoto Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather, it is the result of GermanyŐs inability to adjust to drastically changed circumstances and its loss of influence over domestic and international trends.

Anti-Americanism is not new. For anyone who has spent time in Germany listening to the talk on the streets itŐs apparent that a long-term security alliance can never rid a society of its prejudices. ItŐs understandable that defeat and occupation culminating in an alliance of necessity does not breed admiration. But compounding post-war resentment were Cold War expectations. A constant theme of the German-American relationship during the Cold War was the German desire for a partnership of equals. That was an unrealistic goal. There can be no equality when one nationŐs social and economic well-being depend on another nationŐs security guarantee.

GermanyŐs troubles start with demographics. Germans are struggling to replenish their numbers and losing ground. If the childless trend continues, the population will reach a point where no number of children will be enough to sustain ethnic Germans as a group. Baring an upswing in the birth rate Germany is faced with two choices, neither of them acceptable. It must either encourage emigration and change the definition of German-ness, or face extinction.

Germany is also wrestling with waning economic influence, a declining military, and a collapsing welfare state. It is no mystery why Germany seeks a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. It must institutionalize influence that was formerly exercised by virtue of economic power before the rest of the world realizes what every German already knows. Germany is a shadow of the nation that created the entitlement state that became the envy of socialists and refugees worldwide. When the Berlin Wall fell and Chancellor Kohl promised East Germans a flowering landscape within ten years, the conventional wisdom was that western investors would flock to the east with jobs that would finance reunification. But after conducting historyŐs largest State-sponsored transfer of wealth from one geographic region to another, Germans have come to the conclusion that no amount of money will be able to fix whatŐs wrong with East Germany. International investors headed east but they didnŐt stop until they reached Asia. The focus of economic competition in the 21st century will be between Asia and America. GermanyŐs BMWs and Mercedes come from North Carolina and Alabama and itŐs only a matter of time before its Volkswagens come from China. German companies have voted with their factories.

GermanyŐs declining military should neither be a surprise nor cause for concern. As a member of the NATO alliance, the majority of German defense costs during the Cold War were borne by the United States, freeing up valuable GDP for social entitlements. And while Germany can continue to starve its military without consequence, it cannot influence strategic events any longer by virtue of its geography. For half a century Germany was at the center of American security policy. Germany had grown used to being consulted on every nuance of Cold War diplomacy. Then came 9-11 and a strategic shift took place that Germany has still not comprehended. It is neither the focus of American foreign policy nor AmericaŐs most important ally. Military events in Pakistan and economic developments in India are of far more importance to U.S. security and economic well-being. But Germany labors under the illusion that its interests should continue to be of vital importance to the United States as if it were the natural state of affairs and any deviation from the Cold War arrangement lacks legitimacy. GermanyŐs failure to influence U.S. actions subsequent to 9-11 is cited as evidence of American unilateralism rather than a changed strategic environment where it no longer enjoys a privileged position.

These are uncomfortable facts that demand change, something Germans do not willingly embrace. Unfortunately, its Chancellor won an election by pandering to latent anti-Americanism, increasing the probability it will be used to gain political advantage in the future. While that may be a safe response to the latest opinion polls, it is no substitute for national policy.

Indeed. (BTW, readers are more than welcome to send in such pieces for posting here. I hope to do it more frequently going forward. Particularly as it makes my life easier--mitigating somewhat the (largely self-inflicted) pressures to post daily).

Posted by Gregory at 09:51 AM | Comments (74)