Autocrats “Believe in Autocracy. They See It as a Superior Form of Government”

Cliff May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies is always worth reading, never more so than in his syndicated column today (oops, it’s after midnight, I mean yesterday).

Cliff May -- I call him Cliff so it seems like I know himIn Robert Kagan’s brief but insightful 2008 book, The Return of History, the author concluded that “great power nationalism has returned to Russia and with it traditional power calculations and ambitions.”

Kagan puts this into historical context, noting that there is no international consensus on the optimal form of governance. On the contrary, “the struggle between liberalism and autocracy has endured since the Enlightenment.” It was not settled by World War I or World War II or by the Cold War. Those who rule Russia, as well as those who rule China, Iran, Syria, and many other nations are committed to maintaining strong central governments, “managing” their populations through coercion, harassment, imprisonment, and when necessary — or even just convenient — murder, as well as maximizing power on the world stage through whatever means are available.

“The modern liberal mind,” Kagan argues, “may not appreciate the enduring appeal of autocracy in this globalized world.” But autocrats, he adds, really do “believe in autocracy. They see it as a superior form of government. As have rulers and prominent political thinkers going back to Plato and Aristotle, they regard democracy as the rule of the licentious, greedy, and ignorant mob,” which renders it inherently weak, unstable, and chaotic. Recent events, not only in modern Greece, no doubt reinforce this view.

Much as we might wish otherwise, the ideal of an “international community” that embraces peace, freedom, human and civil rights, tolerance, democracy, and the rule of law as universal values is a fiction, a fantasy, a pipe dream.

To coin a phrase, read the whole thing. (Disclosure: I did not actually coin that phrase.)


Gaddafi: “Another One Bites the Dust”

.. and another one’s gone
‘nother one’s gone
‘nother one bites the dust

(Hey, maybe I should use song lyrics in all my blog posts! It could be my gimmick!  I wish I knew more song lyrics!)

I still find it astonishing and inconsistent that Mr. Nobel Peace Prize entered a war of choice in Libya.  But as VDH said, “the only thing worse than starting a stupid war is losing it,” and it looks like there is no further danger of losing to Gaddafi.

And the world… will be a better place…

So what comes next in Libya and the region?  Two takes from The Corner, eighteen minutes apart — one hopeful, one non.  John P. Hannah of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is hopeful:

Qaddafi’s inglorious end sends … a powerful reminder that, try as they might, the region’s despots cannot through blood and brutality forever hold off history’s harsh judgement. Assad’s head will rest far less easy tonight. The morale of the Syrian people will receive a much-needed boost to endure the difficult days that no doubt still lie ahead. And perhaps most importantly, the hard men around Assad who have continued to do his dirty work, will have new cause to save their own skins by reassessing their misguided loyalties to a leader who is dragging them and their community ever closer to catastrophe. With a strategic stake in Syria’s fate that dwarfs our interests in Libya, the United States would be well advised to exploit the openings created by Qaddafi’s terminus to re-energize the effort to depose Assad, short-circuit the civil war that he is struggling mightily to ignite, and deliver a crippling blow to the Iranian terror machine that so threatens our interests and those of our allies.

His boss at FDD, Cliff May, almost immediately followed up with a sour note:

If the Great Arab Revolt — “Arab Spring” is a hopeful, not descriptive term — ends up only removing Qaddafi and, from neighboring Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, a despot who was, nonetheless, a reasonably pliant client of the U.S., and if Iran’s theocrats remain in power and manage to save the Assad dynasty in Syria while continuing to use Hezbollah to control Lebanon and sponsoring Hamas in Gaza, the lesson will be clear: It is more dangerous to be America’s ally than its enemy.

Such a lesson will carry long-term strategic consequences. If there are strategic planners in the current administration, now would be a good time for them to start worrying.

Is the glass half full or half empty?  The answer is “yes.”  Welcome to the geopolitics of the Middle East.

What a long, strange trip it’s been…

Thanksgiving Day Ruminations on America, Its Defenders and Its Enemies

Enough about turkeys today.  Let’s talk hawks and doves, taking as our text the work of two good writers with very different world views.

Clifford May, who leads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, starts his Thanksgiving Day column by giving thanks for the members of our nation’s armed forces.

At this moment, such men and women are far from their homes fighting an enemy whose goal is to make us submit — to them, their laws, and their authority. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s Islamist revolution, put it succinctly: “People cannot be made obedient except with the sword!”We can argue about the best strategy for defeating these sworn enemies of America and the West — of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and moderate Muslims. But we should not be debating whether to be a bit more obedient; whether to appease this enemy; whether we can, through soft words and conciliatory deeds, make ourselves inoffensive to him; whether this conflict is our fault, at least as much as his.

Nor should we still be describing this global conflict as “overseas contingency operations” against “violent extremists” — phrases that cloud meaning and obscure understanding. The simple truth: Just as Nazism arose from within Germany, and Communism from within Russia, today radical and bellicose ideologies, movements, and organizations have arisen from within Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic countries.

I agree “we should not be debating … whether we can, through soft words and conciliatory deeds, make ourselves inoffensive” to our enemies.  And yet that debate continues.

I met Robert Wright at Princeton, where he was a year ahead of me, and over the years I’ve followed his commentary I’ve found that I respect him more than I agree with him.  He’s a thoughtful writer who presses his anti-war case without demonizing those who disagree.

Wright has a column in the online New York Times this week in which he argues that the war in Afghanistan is “Worse Than Vietnam.”  Afghanistan is the longest war in American history, and more expensive than Vietnam and Korea combined.  Wright argues that by making war in Afghanistan and Iraq on anti-American jihadists, “we’re creating them faster than we’re killing them,” although he has the grace to acknowledge that this view is “impressionistic.”

All told, then: in terms of the long-run impact on America’s economic and physical security, the Afghanistan war is as bad as the Vietnam War except for the ways in which it’s worse.

Still, the strategy in whose name both wars were launched, containment, makes sense if wisely calibrated. [Side note: how did the launch of the war in Afghanistan have anything to do with “containment”?] A well tuned terrorism containment strategy — dubbed containment 2.0 by the foreign policy blogger Eric Martin — would require strong leadership in the White House and in Congress. It would mean convincing Americans that — sometimes, at least — we have to absorb terrorist attacks stoically, refraining from retaliation that brings large-scale blowback.

That’s a tough sell, because few things are more deeply engrained in human nature than the impulse to punish enemies. So maybe the message should be put like this: Could we please stop doing Al Qaeda’s work for it?

The idea that retaliation is counter-productive has a logic to it.  The argument deserves to be taken seriously… but it leads to untenable places.  I fervently hope that America never gets to the point where it can “absorb terrorist attacks stoically.”  As the first commenter (of more than 300) on Wright’s blog post put it, “Neville Chamberlain could not have written a better article.”

Back to Clifford May:

We live in uncertain times. In the early 20th century, terrorism meant a bomb thrown into a carriage. Today, it means a passenger jet slammed into a skyscraper. Tomorrow it could mean the detonation of nuclear devices, the use of biological weapons to spread dread diseases, or even cyber attacks on our electronic infrastructure.

In the past, we fought godless enemies who killed without remorse. What could be worse than that? An enemy who believes the God he worships commands him to slaughter “infidels,” an enemy who loves death — his own and even that of his children. If that is not evil, nothing is.

Should we be thankful for this enemy and this war? No, but perhaps we can be thankful for the fact — and I believe it is a fact — that we Americans, most of us, or at least enough of us, are equal to the challenge we face.

This blog was founded on the premise that — paraphrasing something Edmund Burke apparently did not actually sayall that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  America is not without flaw, but I firmly believe it is the greatest force for good in the history of the world.  And people who deliberately fly airplanes into buildings are evil.

On this day of giving thanks I’m deeply grateful to the men and women of the American armed forces.  I pray for the well-being of all of them, but I’ve got a special stake in one. Harry, be safe, and thank you for your service.

Not All Deaths Are Created Equal

cliff mayI’ve blogged before about FDD Update, the outstanding weekly newsletter of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  This week’s edition is especially rich with clear-eyed thinking on the global struggle against Islamic fascism.

I could post about several entries, but I’ll confine myself to excerpting Cliff May’s takedown of a drivelous U.S./Muslim body count comparison:

[Stephen] Walt concludes: “[T]he United States has killed nearly 30 Muslims for every American lost. The real ratio is probably much higher, and a reasonable upper bound for Muslim fatalities (based mostly on higher estimates of ‘excess deaths’ in Iraq due to the sanctions regime and the post-2003 occupation) is well over one million, equivalent to over 100 Muslim fatalities for every American lost.”

He quotes an unnamed “prominent English journalist” who, he says, has articulated his point “quite simply.” “If the United States wants to improve its image in the Islamic world,” he said, “it should stop killing Muslims.”

Moral relativism is hardly uncommon in today’s political discourse, but refusing to differentiate between American troops trying to feed starving Somalis and Somali terrorists trying to stop the feeding program really does take the cake, so to speak.

It’s also revealing that Walt neglects to ask how many Muslims have been killed by Saddam Hussein, by al-Qaeda, by Iranian proxy death squads in Iraq, by the Taliban, and by other radical Muslim groups.

There is no recognition by Walt that in recent years Americans have sacrificed lives and treasure to save Muslims from tyranny and carnage in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan — and, yes, Muslims were killed in the process because in each of these cases, except Bosnia and Kosovo, Muslims communities were threatened by radical Muslim groups or regimes.

Read the whole thing.

Photo of Cliff May from FDD website


87 More Days Until Obama Breaks His Guantanamo Pledge

gitmo_delta-resizedIt’s been evident for some time that January 23, 2010, will arrive without the fulfillment of President Obama’s first executive order, to close the Guantanamo detention center within one year of the (January 22, 2009) signing.  This week brings further reminders of why breaking that pledge will be the better part of valor.  Many of the Gitmo detainees are Very Bad People, and there’s no good option for relocating them.

FDD Update, the indispensable newsletter of the indispensable Foundation for Defense of Democracies, each week offers a breadcrumb trail to the best writing on the misnamed Global War on Terror.  This week, FDD President Cliff May points to these Gitmo highlights:

In the ruling Joscelyn describes, a judge applied a “beyond-a-reasonable-doubt” standard in finding that Khaled al Mutairi could not be held as an enemy combatant.  Unfortunately, it was not a jury trial — because a jury might well have found that the government proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Let us connect the dots on al Mutairi: (1) He left for Afghanistan shortly after September 11 without making any plans for a return trip; (2) He used a known al Qaeda/al Wafa smuggling route to get into Afghanistan; (3) He carried $15,000 in cash with him and admittedly gave at least some of this money to al Wafa–which, again, is a known al Qaeda front–to an al Wafa representative in Kabul; (4) He spent well more than a month in the Taliban’s Afghanistan and could not offer any valid explanation for what he was doing during that time; (5) He fled towards the Tora Bora Mountains in a manner that is entirely consistent with al Qaeda and Taliban members, according to the court; (6) His “non-possession” of his passport is consistent with “al Qaeda’s standard operating procedures”; (7) His contact information appeared on multiple rosters of “captured fighters,” including one that was kept by a senior al Qaeda terrorist; (8) His passport information appeared on multiple “passport lists” maintained by al Qaeda; and (9) Kuwaiti security claims that al Mutairi was a “hardcore extremist” affiliated with al Qaeda before he ever went to Afghanistan in the first place.

Now, if you think that the above indicates that al Mutairi “more likely than not became part of Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan” (a phrase used by Judge Kollar-Kotelly in a previous habeas ruling), then you share the opinion held by the U.S. military and intelligence officials who detained him.

But the judge did not see it that way.

The Miami Herald reported that al Mutairi will not immediately be released, but rather will be placed in “a Kuwaiti rehabilitation center at the emirate designed to help men jailed for years as jihadists reenter society in the oil-rich emirate.”  Good luck with that — al Shihri went through a similar program in Saudi Arabia.

At least al Mutairi will be released on the other side of the world from America, because Kuwait was willing to repatriate him.  But think about this: most Gitmo detainees will have to be held within the United States if Gitmo is closed, because other countries want nothing to do with them.  In a post-Gitmo era, enemy combatants released by misguided judges will have to be released on our own soil if their homelands will not take them.

A Religion of Peace? Only With Careful Editing

I’m a fan of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — an organization I was predisposed to love as soon as I heard their name. Their weekly FDD Update newsletter provides an extremely comprehensive review of  each week’s developments in the defining struggle of our age — the war against Islamic fascism.

fdd-logoThere’s a large overlap in commentators between FDD and National Review Online, my favorite website, so I often have already seen some of the items that FDD President Clifford May highlights in the newsletter.  But when this week’s edition arrived today, I saw that I had missed a forceful critique of Obama’s Cairo speech by former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy.  Some of McCarthy’s NRO colleagues had offered muted praise for the speech, as did I, but McCarthy was having none of it, and made some strong points.  For example:

The president, moreover, insisted on pulling from the Muslim apologists’ playbook the expurgation of Islamic scripture in order to render it congenial to Western sensibilities. We were treated to the hidebound claim that terrorist violence is anti-Islamic because what Obama takes pains to call “the Holy Koran” teaches that “whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.” This conveniently decoupled Sura 5:32 from the next verse (5:33), which, though unmentioned by Obama, is well known by Muslims to read: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land, is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: That is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the hereafter.”

There are, of course, offensive passages in the Bible as well.  But while Christians and Jews have largely evolved beyond the barbarities of their early scriptures, too many Muslims show little sign of doing so.  It would not have been appropriate for Obama to launch a verbal crusade in a speech on Arab soil, but he also should not enable pathology by pretending it does not exist.  As McCarthy says:

[T]here is an enormous amount of reform to be done — work that can only be done by Muslims. We cannot rouse them to the task by telling them we think Islam, as it currently exists, is promoting peace.