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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Immediate causes and long-run causes

About 2500 years ago, Thucydides the Athenian posited the difference between the immediate and long-term causes of wars. The war between Athens and Sparta ostensibly began because of a war between Corinth and Corcyra, a revolt in the Athenian client of Potidea, and Athens' blockade of neighboring Megara, but Thucydides adds that what really made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear that that occasioned in Sparta. In the same way, the video The Innocence of Muslims and the killing of three American diplomats, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, is merely the tip of a very large iceberg that broke away from an arctic glacier many decades ago, and a frightening symptom of what two related trends have made possible.

After nearly 70 years of relative peace around the world, we have forgotten that our civilization was originally established by force. Violence ruled the world directly for much of mankind's history, and there was no taboo against the use of private violence even as recently as 1000 years ago or less in Europe. As university students once learned in western civilization courses, monarchies established bureaucratic forms of government in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while the English-speaking world established genuine traditions of self-government. A parallel development occurred in the Ottoman empire, which ruled an astonishing conglomeration of peoples, including millions of Christians and Jews, for centuries. Then the American Revolution gave the world the idea of individual rights and true self-government, which repeatedly set the world on fire over the next 150 years. In the first half of the twentieth century those ideas tore apart one empire after another in Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The new nations that emerged all followed some form of the western bureaucratic or democratic model, but the process was not accomplished without millions of deaths. Then in the 1990s threev more multinational states disintegrated--two of them, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, without significant bloodshed.

The Arab world for half a century has been ruled by bureaucratic and military dictatorships, some of them heavily supported by western nations, including the United States. Meanwhile, thanks largely to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, the west in general and the United States in particular have become more and more unpopular among the Arab masses. In the 1990s, the late political scientist Samuel Huntington, who was never afraid to take a big idea and run with it, foresaw a clash of civilizations. Tragically, in the first decade of this century, an American President, George W. Bush, did his best to make that prophecy come true. I was struck that one of the two people behind the video that has outraged so many Muslims, Steve Klein, is a Vietnam veteran with a son who was wounded in Iraq. No matter how noble George W. Bush's purposes, the conquest of a Muslim nation was certain to arouse hatred throughout a region where memories of colonialism are still fresh. Barack Obama tried to show in his first year that his heart was in the right place, but he esa\calated the war in Afghanistan nonetheless. Meanwhile, among the tens of thousands of American casualties are a certain number who have come home bitter, or who have aroused bitterness among their families. The filmmaker, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, has now been revealed as a Coptic Christian--a minority in genuine danger in Egypt--and a petty criminal. And that leads us to the truly novel and terrifying aspect of these events.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries revolutionaries and anarchists often tried to set revolutions off with violent acts. The most successful, undoubtedly, was Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian terrorist who assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, triggered the First World War, and, although he did not live to see it, helped bring about the creation of Yugoslavia. But as late as 9/11/2001, such an act had either to kill a leading political figure, or several of them, or kill a large umber of innocents to have widespread consequences. That is no longer the case. A single internet video or cartoon from a newspaper is enough to send thousands into the streets, threatening the safety of westerners in much of the Muslim world and making a mockery of international law. It seems inconceivable that this will be the last such incident.

And these demonstrations are happening, of course, because the new governments in nations that have overthrown dictatorships lack the authority of their predecessors. It will take years for them to establish legitimacy, and the process, as in the great transformations of the past, is likely to be violent. Crucially, many Muslims obviously do not respect western ideas of free speech where religion is concerned. Attacks on Mohammed strike thousands as deadly insults reflecting shame not only on their perpetrators but upon foreign authorities who allow them to happen. In the age of the internet we cannot stop such attacks from arousing notice.

Two trends within the United States will also make things worse. The Republican Party is so desperate to return to power that it will try to exploit any setback for the US abroad and blame it on President Obama. He is in no way to blame for any of this, but we are already hearing that greater firmness would have avoided these problems. One would have thought that Republicans would know by now that attempts to impose our will and our values on Muslim nations do not work. Prominent Americans, however, cannot shake their sense of superiority. In a column two weeks ago Thomas Friedman bitterly criticized the new Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, for attending a non-aligned summit in Teheran. I felt like screaming in Friedan's ear that Morsi does not care what he thinks, and that to Muslim nations the pariah in the Middle East is not Iran, but Israel.

The other American trend is now forty years old, and relates to our changing attitude towards free speech. I remain totally opposed to any restrictions on free speech, include laws against hate speech, but the time has come to face a necessary truth: free speech has to be exercised responsibly to work. Beginning in the 1960s the idea has grown that the purpose of speech is to be outrageous, and that the more outrageous speech might be, the more protection--if not celebration--it deserves. Free speech that, for instance, points out abuses by our own government or calls attention to real dangers overseas has enormous value, but free speech that simply insults millions of Muslims does not. Yet Mitt Romney initially criticized the Embassy in Egypt for attacking the video that caused the trouble.

The United States in my opinion is in for a rude awakening, because we simply have no means of imposing our values upon the rest of the world any more. As I have mentioned many times, governmental authority is in the midst of a huge long-term decline that began in the 1980s, if not the 1960. Populations have grown worldwide while armies have shrunk. (One of the half-dozen nations remaining with a large army by historical standards is, not coincidentally, Syria.) For the first time, the mass of people in nations like Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Iraq are asserting their rights--and they do not share our values. That, sadly, will make effective, informed diplomacy all the more necessary. We could not afford the loss of Christopher Stevens.


Anonymous said...

Very eloquently said, David. We are in for a bumpy ride across the Middle East for some time, for the reasons you cite. My own take is similar, down to the citation of Prof Huntington:


It is deeply depressing that our elites seemingly cannot grasp that the Western-led certainties of the post-1945 period in the Middle East have vanished, irrevocably. Many of the emerging trends in the region are worrisome, and some are deeply toxic, but we have minimal ability to change them. At best, we maybe can shape their worse edges. And I said "maybe".

And Mitt Romney thinks a bit more force and louder support for Likud will fix it all.

A tragedy George Kennan isn't here to proffer comments on this farce.

Bruce Wilder said...

We [Americans] do not share our values.

Not only is American power, American hegemony or "empire" crumbling, the moral conviction behind it, is crumbling into hypocrisy and worse.

It surely is not coincidental that Obama has claimed the "right" to use drones to kill people in Muslim nations too weak to protest effectively, let alone block this violation of sovereignty. American drones kill people at funerals and weddings; are Muslims, then, expected to honor diplomatic immunity?

And, what is the strategic purpose of these drone killings? What is the strategic purpose of the continuing war in Afganistan, where the U.S., effectively funds and trains both sides? Yemen? Mali? Our crumbling moral values are of a piece with our inability to think through strategic purpose and the ends and means of national policy.

What was the point of aggressive war against Iraq, a country which had nothing to do with 9/11? Bush's policy was an unambiguous war crime. Torture? Indefinite detention?

And, the Republicans, when not prattling on about Obama's "weakness" -- they're engaging in systematic voter suppression at home, and running a multimillionaire tax-evader for President. Feel the democratic solidarity and patriotism.

Shall we notice that the morally vacant Obama has also failed to prosecute financial fraud in the aftermath of the greatest worldwide financial crisis in 70 years?

The historically minded may note the grand names of the precedents cast aside in the last decade: Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus, Nuremburg, the Statute Against Frauds, the Geneva Conventions . . .

Centuries of political and legal development of law, nation-state, bureaucratic administration and due process, democracy --- crumbling to dust in a few years before the eyes of uncomprehending millions, at home and abroad.

It is very easy rhetoric to claim that millions far way do not share values. I, personally, lack personal acquaintance. But, I suspect, that many such people, not so long ago idealized the United States and the West, and democracy and development, and there is in their rage a considerable loss of innocence, the jealous desperation of a disappointed, rejected lover, clinging to a self and a contempt for self, in shame and humiliation barely contained by the expression of anger.

Anonymous said...

A career diplomat not a political appointee as so often is the case, someone with deeper knowledge and professionalism. He was the 8th ambassador to be killed in office.


Obama appointed 40% politcal unexperienced people according to this article about one appointee who was a disgrace.


A goole search on the topic gives lots of meat on the subject:


The other topic that came up in your post was the free speach abuse. My Russian wife has told me of what people in Russian press and commentary say about Pussy Riot. This is all very uncomplimentary. For a live orgy in a museum before the previous presidential election according to laws Tolokonnikova could have gotten 7 years according to legal code.


"Controversial opinions of the action were published by the media. A number publications focused on the amoral behavior of the performers. Newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda commented: "They are not unrecognized geniuses. They are losers and poseurs acting on the principle: 'come, trash the place, go away'. For the PR, they would dance on a grave, even take off their panties in public. And they do not care that after such actions innocent people suffer - metro employees, museum keepers. These actions of urban psychos stink very badly."[12]

Mikhail Zhukhov, a lawyer from the attorney's collegium "Justice" commented that the performers' actions contain elements of crime described in Article 213, "Hooliganism", of Russian Criminal Code: "Action participants severely violated social order. Taking into account the place and the fact that people with photo and videocameras were invited, a conclusion can be made about the existence or premeditation. All this was done by a group of people by a prior arrangement. The participants have an unhappy perspective - part 2 of article 213 of Russian Criminal Code makes a provision for a prison sentence for up to seven years. Museum staff should write a report to the Internal Affairs Department".[12]"

These young girls are obviously trying to leverage press and internet to overthrow the government which, with Tolikonnikova's right to live in Canada(she is the ringleader) can only invite accusations of her being a foreign agent. The more you dig the dirt on such people the worse things you find, like many unserious troublemakers and agitators who just want attention like the filmmakers discussed in your article. Serious reformists belong to and have middle class values not 1968 nudist revolutionary flag burning tendencies.

Anonymous said...

my whole comment did not fit:

As long a the West is seen as trying to destroy other countries' religious and social values for economic and political and military domination (getting always involoved in revolutions, etc. like in Libya or Russia 1917, etc.) for their advantage to create and maintain Anglo-American global hegemony this resistance and suspicion will never end on the part of other countries. The Iranians desire for the bomb is in this sense comprehensible. We are now trying to starve them out with sanctions. The competition between the two political parties sporned on by business donations and propaganda of the corporate owned and highly partial newsmedia and blood thirsty extremist policial partisans (for holy Israel on the right or holy human rights on the left or whatever excuse to impose US military and business dominance abroad) is perhaps tyxpical of a crisis generational era ending in a big war centering not just on Western Europe and Eastern Asia as in WWII but on the whole Eurasian continent across all of China and Russia(Ice melt helps ease attack by marine landing across Arctic perhaps in few short years)using footholds in Poland, central Asia, Japan, Korea, Afghansitan, Iraq (Syria?). I think USA is getting in too deep and will go bankrupt and collapse before they get to their final messianic goal, much like Merkel and Brussels goal of a US of Europe are absurd.

David Kaiser said...

This from Art Eckstein, originally posted on another post:

David as usual gives us much to think about.

But I believe he is too easy on the Islamists.

The fact is that Muslim media is FILLED with the most savage anti-semitism and anti-Christian polemics. Egypt is one of the worst cases, and I do not mean just the net, I mean television. Any look at MEMRI will confirm this.

Yet while they pour out a continuous sewer of anti-semitic and anti-Christian material, an obscure youtube video sets off massive Muslim riots world wide.

It is just like the Rushdie affair in 1989 and the Mohammed cartoon affair of 2006. Christopher Hitchens called it the Khomeini Rules (and Paul Berman called it the Rushdie rules). To wit: not only do Muslims in majority-Muslim countries have the absolute right to suppress all criticism of Islam in those countries, but Muslims have the right to suppress all critiism of Islam ANYWHERE ON THE PLANET, including by violence.

This is not hypocrisy. It is something worse. Because infidels, the upholders of inferior religions have to expect savage criticism from their superiors. This is only right. But that the upholders of inferior religions can criticize the superior Word of God, his Messenger, or the upholders of superior religion now, THAT is an abomination that cannot be tolerated!

Hence the riots. "Colonialism" has little to do with this sort of triumphalism, David. The Europeans held most of the Middle East for one generation 75 years ago. (Of course, for the upholders of superior religion to be under the thumb of infidels even for a LITTLE while is an abomination.) This is not about colonialism; it is coming from within Islam itself, fueled by Saudi billions.

Is this all Muslims? No, no no--and especially not American Muslims, as far as I can see. But it is a rising tide within Islam itself.

Art Eckstein

8:45 PM
Blogger David Kaiser said...

Art, good to hear from you. I think you inadvertently posted this comment on the wrong post--it was evidently intended for the most recent one. I will put the text of your comment and my reply there.

I'm not sure this changes anything I would have said but it is important data and it opens up a possible proposal for a solution, that is, mutual agreement to limit anti-religious propaganda of all kinds. Of course, distinctions are going to be difficult to draw--one would have to accept that criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic, for example--but this should not be impossible.

Unknown said...

Dear David,

Sorry I put this in the wrong place!
Your response is as polite and friendly as always, of course!

But I think we cannot have mutual limits on speech you suggest.

1. On our side, this would simply be a violation of the First Amendment and of the basic Enlightenment social contract ("You are free to criticize anything, including making statements that offend me; and I am free to criticize anything, including making statements that offend you."

The problem of course is that we are dealing with people who do NOT accept the Enlightenment social contract but believe they are free to criticize as savagely as they like, but are not subject to criticism themselves. Period.

2. And on their side, there would be instant cheating, and the cheating would be vigorously defended by western apologists for the Islamists (apologists because they are merely "colonial people striking back"--and not themselves aggressive imperialists). Even today, there are apologists who claim that the depictions on Egyptian TV of old Jews selling body parts: that's merely "anti-Israel" response and thus should be defended.

Thus the West would simply end up arguing with itself, while restricting its own speech to the Muslim world.

I would repeat that the "response to European colonialism" meme doesn't have much historical fact to back it up. The Ottomans ruled these areas for 400 years. By contrast, the European "colonial" period in the Middle East is one generation and it ended two generations ago.

British rule in Iraq lasted from 1918 to 1946 (with theoretical independence from 1932); British rule in the Palestine Mandate lasted from 1918 to 1948 (30 years); and French rule in Syria lasted from 1920 until 1946 (26 years). Kuwait and the Gulf Emirates and Saudi Arabia were never ruled by European outsiders.

In Egypt, British rule lasted longer, from 1882 to 1952; in the Sudan from 1899 to 1956. It's still only two generations, and that ended two generations ago.

Algeria is the longest Euro-possession, 1830-1963. But that's not where the trouble is occurring.

David Kaiser said...

Art, I just checked, and there isn't anything in my post about a reaction against colonialism. Perhaps you hear so much about that in your work environment that you assume it's everywhere. I actually do think that, when you look at how long the US South bitterly resented Reconstruction, that it wouldn't be surprising if the Egyptians, for instance, still resented that era, but I wasn't blaming that for what is happening at all. I agree it is something that has grown up within Islam.
I also agree that we can't pass hate speech laws, but I think governments could make a declaration of mutual respect for all religions, and that might have a beneficial effect in the Muslim world, but perhaps I am, indeed, grasping at straws. Perhaps we should all be studying relations among Austria, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire from the 16th through the 18th centuries. . .

Unknown said...

Dear David,

In paragr. 3 of your piece you wrote as follows: "No matter how noble George W. Bush's purposes, the conquest of a Muslim nation was certain to arouse hatred throughout a region where memories of colonialism are still fresh."

I do not doubt that Bush's invasion of Iraq encouraged regional resentments. But the colonialist business, well, I think that this is buying into a leftist apologia for regional behavior (plus an attempt to make the West feel guiltu as the barbarians attack). Still fresh after 60 years? With so many other bitter memories of failure in between?

The Southern (white) bitterness about Reconstruction, the parallel you give, proves the point: how psychotic does a culture have to be to bitterly resent, in 2012, the U.S. occupation in 1865-1877: which was for the good of regional minorities, and came after a war that the region itself began? Would any academic take seriously the idea that lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 was the result of white bitterness over Reconstruction occupation? Or would they look for a deeper sickness?

However, this was only a passing remark in your piece. I just do not think you should buy into that "colonialism" meme even in passing.

David Kaiser said...

Dear Art,

You are right, I did say that, and I'll stand by that. I was thinking, as I wrote that, of a documentary about Al Jazeera produced about 10 years ago--must have been a little less than ten years--focusing on English-speaking, moderate guys in the control room. As a television showed American-sponsored immigrants (not Iraqis) pulling down the statue of Saddam after our invasion, he sadly shook his head and said, "Another Arab capital occupied." And that was a relatively westernized guy.
The murder of Emmett Till, one could argue, was indeed part of the aftermath of Reconstruction, since Reconstruction convinced the White South that blacks had to be kept in their place at all costs and largely by terror. But more to the point--wouldn't you agree that the "second Reconstruction) of the 1960s has driven the white South irretrievably into the Republican camp? That's how it looks to me. The saddest thing, as I have commented, is that in the middle of the twentieth century the South had an active progressive tradition Every politician had to toe the line on race, but many of them did many things for the poor,white and black. Now that tradition is dead, and federal support for civil rights certainly had something to do with that.
Please don't think I'm excusing any of this, I'm just trying to identify it.

Unknown said...

Dear David,

I really do not think that any academic would dare to "explain" the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 on grounds of white southern bitterness over the Reconstruction occupation of 1865-1877. The lynching came from deeper pathologies within white southern culture--the very pathologies that, existing well before the Civil War, caused the Civil War in the first place. (Charles Dew's "Apostles of Disunion" is a great book on this.)

You are right to point to the Second Reconstruction of the 1960s. But this did not end in 1970 but has continued, and indeed has pushed the bitter-enders of the White South into the Republican Party (thereby ruining the Republican Party). But for the bitter-enders, this Reconstruction is on ON-GOING process, most evident in who the President is right now.

By contrast, one cannot, without enormous distortion or outright falsehood, call "colonialism" an on-going process. It is dead, it was only there in the Middle East briefly, and it died 60 years ago

So, while I take your point about the al-Jazeera guy, to use "the aftermath of colonialism" as an "explanation" for the moronic inferno that is the Middle East seems wrong on empirical grounds.

A Muslim friend of mine points not to the West but to the hugely fragmented nature of the Middle Eastern societies as an explanation for what is happening. The fractionated societies produced socialist dictatorship as a solution to the fragmentation (helped by the old USSR), a dictatorship which in turn destroyed much of the prosperous and educated middle classes that had made the Ottoman Empire work. Into the resultant social chaos the Islamists are moving, and they promise to resolve the chaos in their own totalitarian way.

This has nothing to do with colonialism and its heritage (a lot more to do with the heritage of the post-colonial national socialist dictatorships), and a lot to do with the long-standing fragmented nature of polities such as Syria or Iraq, Egypt or Libya.

Just some thoughts.

All best,


sharkey said...

andandAfter 71 years on this planet, nothing I read, hear or experience surprises me. After more than 10 years resident in the totalitarian regimes of the Middle East I am left with one simple fact: One cannot expect 7 billion people to think in the same way about anything. We are 7 billion separate entities with as many outlooks, opinions and beliefs. It is foolish in the extreme to believe that anyone or any system of laws or governmental rule can do more than sway a few. It is naive' to expect any of them to guide or influence the outcomes of both internal and external pressures placed on any group of persons or any individual,for that matter.
Finally, witnessing the amazingly fast and deep changes in group behavior we witnessed as the Arab oil nations went from 3rd world victims to fabulously wealthy and arrogant groups of previously impoverished, malnourished and oppressed people. Nothing has changed save where the power lies and whom it influences. Pardon me as I grow insular and despair that my fellow humans will ever think alike on any subject.
The most profound statement I have ever read or heard appeared on a clay tablet in Sanskrit many thousands of years ago: One Thousand Monks is One Thousand religions.

publion said...

Concur almost completely here.

Ideally, we should never have even tried to impose our values; the example of the American ‘genius’ – in all of its aspects – was the only proper modality for spreading our values and ways.

George Washington saw that when he insisted that America be the model of democracy for the world, but never its agent. Napoleon observed acutely (if unhappily) that the world does not like “missionaries with bayonets” after realizing that Europe was not greatly enthused with the blessings and fruits – such as they were – of the French Revolution.

I have just finished Jonah Goldberg’s 2007 book “Liberal Fascism”. His thesis is that insofar as Marxism, Italian Fascism, Nazism, and their relatively contemporaneously developed American cousin, Progressivism – as well as the more comprehensive variants of the socialist vision – all seek to impose a Vision that is presumed to be so good for humanity that all polities should seek a “total” (thus “totalitarian”) imposition of its requirements, then American Progressivism – willy or nilly – participates in the French Revolutionary rather than the American Revolutionary Stance, and that thus a great deal of American political development in the 20th-century, on the part of both Parties, has trended deeply and powerfully in that unhappy direction.

While it goes against the contemporary American understanding to conceive of Marxism, Italian Fascism, Nazism, socialism, and Progressivism – as being all variants of the Vision of the Left (in the European sense of that term), I find Goldberg’s thesis to be stimulating and quite serviceable as an explanatory hypothesis for a great many of the developments (or de-velopments) in American politics and polity in the past decades as well as in the past century.

And it is hardly inconceivable that – although we Americans don’t like to look at our track record through that lens – a number of peoples around the planet do so. And don’t much care for what they see.

If we add finance capitalism, secularism, and consumerism to the plate, I think that those peoples’ doubts and reservations are even more understandable. And, of course, now that we have added missionary-bayonets to the mix, then so much the more.