The First World War’s Relevance to Our Times

September 6, 2014

The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War has been greeted with not much more than a yawn

by citizens of the West. Sure, there have been the obligatory documentaries, the reconciliation hugs by

the leaders of France and Germany and the commemorative ceremonies played out on that War’s most ravaged battlefields.

But for most, the war remains not even a distant memory. No man or woman who fought during that time is now alive and the events that took place between August 4,1914 and November 11,1918 have been vastly overshadowed by the outbreak of a far deeper conflict which engulfed the world 21 years later.

Yet to fail to recognize the significance of this date is to ignore what is probably the most cataclysmic event in world history, one that overturned a century of extraordinary human progress and set the political, economic, cultural, and social tone for the remainder of the century. Not a man, woman, or child born in that century or who is alive today remains unaffected by the consequences of the First World War and ignoring what its outbreak has to teach us about our own world is a costly mistake.

The First World War has been called a futile war, one marked by military ineptitude and diplomatic failures in which 10 million lives were sacrificed for no gain. Its most memorable slogans — “Make the World Safe for Democracy” and “Your Country Wants You!” have been regarded with hindsight as just facile and empty propaganda in which no one today much believes.

But what if they were true? What if the war, much like the much more decisively ended conflict which followed it, was really about the defense of a way of life and the shape of human progress? What, in fact, if the militant absolutism the Allied forces found themselves confronting in 1914, finds its mirror in some of the free world’s most significant challenges today?

Not a man, woman, or child born in that century or who is alive today remains unaffected by the consequences of the First World War and ignoring what its outbreak has to teach us about our own world is a costly mistake.

For we should make no mistake: in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the West is looking into the eyes of exactly the kind of unbridled militarism and reckless opportunism it confronted at the beginning of the 20th Century. Failure to meet it with force could bring disaster.

Before getting to the modern day however, it might help to examine the question of how it was possible for Europe to drift into a continent-wide conflagration in the first place, when so many seeming safeguards had been set in place by the Great Powers in order to avoid it?

Since the convention of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the establishment of the Concert of Europe — a traditional balance of power arrangement among the leading European nations — a major continental war had been avoided on multiple occasions through advanced statecraft developed by a series of brilliant leaders which included Prince Klemens von Metternich of Austria, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord of France and Lord Castlereagh of Great Britain, to be followed later in the century by others such as Lord Palmerston and Benjamin Disraeli. Together these men enforced a system that allowed no one nation to become too dominant in Europe so as to threaten the continental peace.

Both Palmerston and Disraeli in particular had witnessed the devastations of the American Civil War and well recognized how new technology made modern warfare likely to involve a terrible carnage. With booming economies, expanding trade, and growing colonial empires, there was no stomach among the 19th Century European leaders for the devastations of the Napoleonic Wars which had plagued Europe at the beginning of the century.

The drive toward lasting peace culminated with the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 which produced the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the Convention with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land — all of which were designed to build safeguards against the outbreak of war or to ensure that in the event of war, military conflict did not descend into barbarism.

This is not to mention the familial ties of the European monarchs themselves. In a remarkable tangle of ancestral roots, the leaders of three of the Five Great Powers were first cousins, grandchildren of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria. They had known each other since childhood, referred to one another by their nicknames and regularly met for family events. Cousins, the conventional wisdom of the time argued, do not go to war against each other.

But there were forces at work which undermined the Concert of Europe and set in motion an inevitable collision of national interests. When we remember that the concept of war in the European mind was always associated with glory, the absence of it created something of a national itch in many European countries which could only be relieved by some exercise of martial spirit. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who had ascended the throne in 1888, embodied what he considered to be the protean Prussian legacy of German militarism which hearkened back to Frederick the Great and beyond that to the Teutonic knights and even further to the Huns who had sacked the Eastern Roman Empire. His efforts to build the German navy to a level where it could challenge Britain’s hegemony of the world’s oceans and strengthen Germany against the Slavic menace to the East was greeted with alarm by Britain and France who signed their own pact (the Entente Cordiale of 1904) and which was followed by an alliance with Russia in August 1907 — establishing the formidable Triple Entente.

The undisputed historical trigger for the First World War was the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. But Germany had been aggressively preparing for a wide-scale continental war for at least the previous eighteen months. In 1961, the German historian Fritz Fischer in his book Griff nach der Weltmacht (Germany’s Grab for World Power) sensationally revealed a formerly unknown diary entry of Admiral Georg von Mueller from December 8, 1912 which recorded an informal meeting of the German High Command with the Kaiser in which a continental war within eighteen months was planned. Army Chief of Staff Helmuth Von Moltke was even recorded arguing that “a war is unavoidable and the sooner the better.” Von Moltke, the diary entry concluded, was persuaded to postpone the war in order for the Navy to be better prepared for the outbreak of hostilities. Fischer buttressed his argument with the publication of the September Programme, a formerly unknown document drafted by the staff of the German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg in September 1914, which identified German war aims. These included the disarmament of France, the absorption of large parts of Belgium and all of Luxemburg within the German Empire; the creation of a buffer state of Poland ( which would remain permanently under German sovereignty), the expansion of German colonial assets across Central Africa and the institution of an economic association ostensibly egalitarian but actually dominated by Germany.

No such documents have ever been produced which display an equally self-aggrandizing and militant approach from the other major belligerents of the First World War.

If the Great War was then a German War, it leaves us with us with important questions about its inevitability and what it meant for the rise of Nazism. If Germany was bent on expansion and gaining its rightful place as a world leader and felt confined and hemmed in by the other Great Powers, could anything have stopped the Imperial German Army’s march into Belgium in August,1914 or at any time thereafter?

The answer is almost certainly no. Flushed with military confidence after its defeat of France in 1870; buoyed by the unification of the German states the following year; catapulted into the limelight as a world financial power by the Zollverein — its successful economic union — German nationalism was at a peak and the Germans — hierarchical, determined, autocratic, and with very little interest in the niceties of liberal democracy — saw no reason why their values and attitudes should not compete with Great Britain’s as the dominant values of the world.

The conflict between world views was not lost on Adolf Hitler nor his backers. Indeed, the Nazis seemed to have picked up the fallen banner of the Imperial Germany Army where it lay, advancing a set of values which competed directly with those of the democracies and which were propagated without shame.

The Nazis certainly learned some vital military lessons about subjugating restive populations from the Imperial Germany Army. The Kaiser’s little-remembered campaign against the Herero and Namaqua tribes in South West Africa in 1904-07 was the first true genocide of the 20th Century, executed with a methodicism which would have made the Einsatzgruppen proud.

And should anyone doubt the ideological link between Imperial Germany and the Nazi regime, let them then remember that only weeks after he was forced to abdicate, Wilhelm foreshadowed the moral abyss into which the German state would plunge just 14 years later. In a letter to Field Marshal August von Mackensen, on December 2nd, 1918, he denounced his abdication as the “deepest, most disgusting shame ever perpetrated by a person in history, the Germans have done to themselves… egged on and misled by the tribe of Judah…. let no German ever forget this, nor rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated from German soil!” In the same letter, Wilhelm advocated a “regular international all-worlds pogrom à la Russe” as “the best cure” and further believed that Jews were a “nuisance that humanity must get rid of some way or other. I believe the best thing would be gas!”

Seen in this light, the First World War was a desperate conflict between two diametrically opposed concepts of world advancement. The struggle between these competing ideas and ideals would consume the world for the first half of the 20th Century and then continue into the second on on to the Cold War, the war with communism.

But having ultimately won a 75 year- long -war with fascism/totalitarianism, the West, perhaps exhausted by the toll it has exacted and with its self-confidence and morale significantly shaken, has been unprepared to confront the arrival of a third menace whose militancy threatens its survival. The similarities between Wilhelmine Germany and rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran — and the form of militant Islam it represents, bear review: The same sense of national entitlement; the same sense of deprivation of its rightful stage in world affairs; the same grievances against the dominant world power; the same provocative foreign policy; the same willingness to gamble recklessly on a military confrontation it is unlikely to win and the same determination to have its values replace those of its enemies as the dominant value system of the world.

Today, modern Germany has learned that it can exercise dominance without military conquest and its virtual suzerainty of Europe has been somewhat welcomed as a stabilizing influence on a continent that has otherwise lost its bearings. Iran and the satellite organizations it controls may well have to face total defeat and disarmament before it recognizes that it has the same opportunity.

The First World War, poorly fought, execrably settled, and memorialized for the wrong reasons, should today be recalled for what it was — a necessary war, fought justly over values as much as over territory and leaving us with the conviction that reckless militarism should never be ignored nor laughed off. While millions of our young men should not be condemned to die in muddy, lice-infested trenches, we run the risk of paying a far greater toll if we remain squeamish about recognizing a direct challenge to the value system upon which our civilization was founded and then failing to summon the military will to confront it.

(This article originally appeared in American Thinker.)

Guantanomo Has the Last Laugh

March 9, 2011

So there was the new president, two days following  his historic  inauguration, signing into law the order to close the Guantanomo Bay prison, ensuring that his administration, in contrast to his predecessor’s, would “ restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.”

A certain euphoria accompanied the signing of  the three executive orders that day – given that they fulfilled a heavily peddled campaign promise. Obama was giving notice that the new administration would no longer sanction indefinite detention of foreign nationals without trial and that the torture sanctioned by the Bush Administration, which had left an indelible stain on the nation, would be expunged.

It was of course a great deal easier to sign that executive order than it was to actually close down the prison.  For two years the administration has embarrassingly attempted to find a solution to the most obvious and glaring question posed by the potential closure:  where to put the prisoners.  According to every report and inquiry received by the new administration these guys were dangerous – lethally so – and no state in the Union seemed overly eager to receive them.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement on November 13, 2009 that five of the Guantanomo inmates, including 9/11 mastermind Khald Sheikh Mohammed, would be remanded to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for trial raised an outcry from that city and across the nation. Exactly one year later when Ahmed Ghailani, tried on 280 counts of murder and conspiracy to murder in the Kobar Towers attack in 1998 was acquitted of all but one of the charges leveled against him, the Administration began to see how bad things could go.   “Imagine,” they must have said to themselves, “if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was able to walk free because of a technicality – what would it do to us and our reputation?”

In December 2010,  Congress answered that question for them. On December 22nd  it passed legislation effectively barring transfer of detainees to the U.S.  for trial.

And so now, after twenty-two months of twiddling thumbs and attempting to find an answer to the increasingly intractable problem, the Obama Administration has not only decided to keep Guantanomo open, but is now resorting to the Bush inspired decision of trying them there in military tribunals.

So the Gulag remains and the Bush era policies for detaining terrorists and trying them as prisoners of war are essentially retained.

Such sloppy, unsophisticated policy making deserves the ridicule with which the Administration is now being lacerated.  Obama is learning the hard way that it is far easier to make election promises that obtain great political mileage than it is to fulfill them – particularly when absolutely no thought has been given to how to do so.

He might be finally appreciating that the man and administration he has spent four years vilifying might actually have got it right – a lesson history could soon also be teaching many Americans – grown nostalgic for the good old days of decisive leadership.

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History Dead or Alive!

March 21, 2010

Anyone with the desire to obtain a sense of what our children are learning about Islam in school, would be well served by paying attention to some of our children’s history text books.  

The California standard 7th Grade text for history is titled , “History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond.” Not only is it rife with mistruths about medieval history, but it blatantly glorifies and promotes Islam at the expense of  Christianity.

History Alive! is a standard text and used in most of our country’s public schools. You would think that an American text book devoted to the medieval world would provide a balanced picture of pre-Enlightenment Europe and its accomplishments. 

But you would be wrong.  

This text barely scrapes together an outline of the Western civilization’s growth and development, but spends an inordinate amount of space displaying the growth (and worth) of Islam.   In fact an entire unit, 55 pages, featuring such chapter titles as The Geography of the Arabian Peninsula, The Prophet Muhammad and Islam’s Contribution to World Civilization, glorifies Islam’s contributions to our civilization while failing entirely to  recount  the bloodshed that accompanied its conquest of most of the Mediterranean world. 

The obvious impression left is that Islam’s spread was peaceful and benign, being implemented through trade and cultural exchange. Unanswered is how Islam converted populaces so implicitly unhappy with their heritage, that they forsook Christianity to take up a new religion. 

Strangely enough Christianity, in the same time period, has only 15 pages devoted to it – mainly centering on the Crusades, which are described as violent campaigns and massacres launched as attempts to regain captured lands.    Judaism is barely mentioned except in terms of the Spanish Inquisition.  There is no reference at all to the philosophical contributions of St. Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides, Solomon Ibn Ezra and William of Ockam.    Nor is there much discussion of English Common Law, crucial to the growth of the continental legal system and the future American system of justice.

Additionally, Christian beliefs are presented as legends while the claims of Islam are presented as facts. For instance, “Moses claimed to receive the Ten Commandments from God” but Mohammad simply “received the Koran from God”. 

On the subject of Jihad: “Muslims should fulfill jihad with the heart, tongue, and hand. Muslims use the heart in their struggle to resist evil. The tongue may convince others to take up worthy causes, such as funding medical research. Hands may perform good works and correct wrongs.” 

No mention of the carnage and havoc wrought by Jihad’s call to arms throughout the medieval period. 

There was also substantial puffery and misinformation. The text tells us that Muhammad “taught equality and told his followers to share their wealth and to care for the less fortunate in society,”  –  a fact even most Islamic scholars might dispute. 

Where does all this come from? 

Well in 1998, the California State Board of Education adopted “History, Social Science Content Standards for CA Public Schools” which explicitly defines the content that students need to learn at each grade level.  For 7th Grade history,  students are required, among a number of other things, to analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages. Within the prescribed activities, they must explain the significance of the Qur’an and the Sunnah as the primary sources of Islamic beliefs, practice, and law, and their influence in Muslims’ daily life, discussing the expansion of Muslim rule through military conquests and treaties while emphasizing the spread and acceptance of Islam and the Arabic language. 

In other words, Californian 7th grade students must receive instruction and engage in activities to learn about Islamic history, culture and religious practices, whether they want to or not.  The guidelines indicate that the school’s approach to religion should be academic, not devotional and that the school may sponsor study about religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion. 

It is important to note that the textbook’s publisher, Teacher’s Curriculum Institute (TCI), enjoys a close relationship with the Islamic Networks Group (ING), a Muslim propaganda agency based in San Jose, California. The ING website was formerly connected to several Islamist websites, including a propaganda outlet in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.   It sported a website devoted to corrupting American history–and endorsing TCI textbooks. ING promotes no other schoolbook publisher.

The book credits Ayad Al-Qazzaz as its chief author-advisor on Islam. Al Qazzaz is professor of sociology at California State University, Sacramento who is a Muslim apologist and  a frequent speaker in Northern California school districts promoting Islam and Arab causes. He also co-authored The Arab World Notebook, issued by the Arab World and Islamic Resources (AWAIR) which is a proselytizing non-profit organization that conducts teacher workshops and sells supplementary materials to schools.

 Maybe it all began innocently enough with a State Board attempting to create a balanced multicultural approach to education.  

But this text is only multicultural in the sense that it presents the historical narratives of a range of cultures, without critique or comment and without offering any support for the value of the culture and civilization to which the students belong. 

The American Textbook Council (ATC), a national non-profit watchdog group, singled out History Alive! for its bias and prejudice, excoriating it for “an incomplete and confected view of Islam that misrepresents its foundations and challenges to international security.” 

In a 2008 report, ATC spells out a damning indictment of the way such spurious material like this makes it into school texts throughout the country.   Its conclusions are worth quoting in full: 

“Textbook editors try to avoid any subject that could turn into a political grenade. Willingly, they adjust the definition of jihad and sharia or remove these words from lessons to avoid inconvenient truths that the editors fear activists will contest. Explicit facts that non-Muslims might find disturbing are varnished or deleted. Textbooks pare to a minimum such touchy subjects as Israel and oil as agents of change in the Middle East since 1945. Terrorism and Islam are uncoupled and the ultimate dangers of Islamic militancy hidden from view.

 None of this is accidental.  Islamic organizations, willing to sow misinformation, are active in curriculum politics. These activists are eager to expunge any critical thought about Islam from textbooks and all public discourse. They are succeeding, assisted by partisan scholars and associations. It is not remarkable that Islamic organizations would try to use ready-made American political movements such as multiculturalism to adjust the history curriculum to their advantage. It is alarming that so many individuals with the power to shape the curriculum are willfully blind to or openly sympathetic with these efforts. 

These distortions and biases about Islam in history textbooks could not prevail were it not for the all-important bridge between Islamist activists and multicultural organizations on and off campus. Both are eager to restrict what textbooks say about Islam. Multiculturalists are determined that social studies curricula do not transmit “Eurocentric”or “triumphalist” presuppositions about Western history and society. Middle East centers on campuses promote an uncritical view of Islam, often with a caustic anti-Western spin. Historians actively interested in taking world history curricula in this direction are prominent in textbook authorship. Encouraged to do so by reputable authorities, textbook publishers court the Council on Islamic Education and other Muslim organizations—or at least try to appease them. This legitimacy is bestowed in spite of longstanding questions about sources of funding and degree of control over publishers.”

 All parents should be concerned about these developments and should demand to be given a say in how Islam is portrayed in our children’s textbooks.  For the current curriculum and the texts themselves amount to a whitewash of Islamic teachings and history, failing entirely to account for a 1400-year- long legacy of Jihad and attempts to subvert the West.

The fact that the global  terrorist campaigns we witness today derive their legitimacy and inspiration from the same teachings that drove the Islamic conquests of medieval times, should be something our students know and learn.   This must be so no matter how and whether it breaches the boundaries of accepted multicultural dogma or aspirations.

Petraeus of Arabia

March 19, 2010

 Could there be anything more discomfiting for Israelis and their supporters around the world than the recent breach in relations between the State of Israel and the United States?

 Well, yes.

 A report on March 17 revealed  that in mid- January, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gen. David Petraeus  had sent them to amplify his growing concerns at the lack of progress in bringing the Arab- Israeli conflict to an end.   It reflected  a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises and that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region.  

A shiver has since then crept up the U.S. governmental spine that a failed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians would couple Israeli intransigence with American weakness – resulting in an ebb in Arab support for American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the increasing vulnerability of American servicemen to  attack.

The report, if true, should be of far deeper concern to Israel’s supporters than a temporary spat over housing units in Jerusalem.  For if the U.S. military, which has traditionally seen the State of Israel as an important hedge against the rise of Islamic militancy in the Middle East,  now sees the nation as a liability, we may be in for a fundamental realignment of American foreign policy.

But questions remain.  Who, for instance, has David Petraeus been talking to?  Not by chance  to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak –  the leader of a country that, despite a 30-year-old peace treaty with the Jewish state, is one of the world’s most vicious Israel bashers at world forums and a lodestar of antisemitism in a part of the world that has no dearth of Jew hatred?   

No?  Then what about  King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that avid seeker of peace, who, as monarch of his desert sheikdom, has presided over a cottage industry of Israel demonization while doing nothing, despite his country’s bubbling oil wealth, to enhance Palestinian welfare. 

Or maybe he has been taking tea with our friends in Dubai, who have expended millions on tracking the hit squad that targeted Hamas king pin Mahmoud al-Mabhouh but who seem oddly disinterested in the cloaca of muddied terrorist money that funnels unfiltered through its financial institutions.  

Perhaps it is that Petraeus has been given to reading a great deal lately from the communiqués of the British Foreign Office of the late 1930s and the U.S. State Department in the 1940s.  Back then the argument made by both was that neither Britain nor the United States could afford to support the establishment of a nascent Jewish state since it would inevitably turn the Arab world against the West.  

History proved them wrong.  British coddling of the Arabs proved distastrous as the sheikdoms tilted towards the Axis Powers during the Second World War and imperilled British access to oil as well as the approaches to India.   After the war, the oil rich sheikdoms discovered in the West hungry, open markets for their subterranean product.  The Arab-Israeli dispute was only a shadowy after-thought and did not get in the way of the growth of their oil business nor their relations with the West.   It was, oddly enough, not Western support for Israel that would ultimately turn the sheikdoms against the West, but the pressures of the Cold War and then the well financed rise of Islamic fundamentalism. 

You do have to wonder then whether Gen. Petraeus, like so many other Western diplomats,  is responding to facts on the ground, divorced from their historical context.   Does he appreciate that “the  process” he complains about did not begin a few months ago but has been on-going for 17 years?  Does he realize that Israeli concessions were not greeted with tears of joy by the Palestinian leaders but with the murder of Israeli citizens?   Or that the Palestinians have repeatedly violated their agreements and have, time and again over the past 70 years, refused generous territorial offers put to them by the Brits, the United Nations, the United States and Israel itself?

Does he appreciate that the Israelis have buried their dead as the world continued to rhaphsodize about Palestinian territorial rights?   

Perhaps he is unaware of any this because history has, at least until now, been an insignificant element in modern diplomacy in the Middle East, with each round of negotiations mandating a virtual reset of relations, as if the past was a blank slate and not inked with shattered Palestinian promises or dripping with Jewish blood.

But if Gen. Petraeus does not appreciate history, how does he feel about the present?  

Does he comprehend Israel’s military capability, the reach of its intelligence network, the strength of its civilian morale and the determination of its leaders to deter another Holocaust?    Does he understand the strategic importance of marshalling these resources in the inevitable confrontation between the Iranian mullahs and the West? Can he or our political leadership in Washington shrug off their prejudices and expectations long enough to recognize that the Palestinian pantomime is a mere sideshow to the true menace rising out of the sands of the Middle East?

In the end, military leaders such as Gen. David Petraeus, schooled as they are in the practical realities of the world, should not allow themselves to be distracted by the importunings of a gang of self- interested autocrats who have shed as many tears  for the welfare of their Palestinian brethren as Adolf Hitler once wept for the Sudeten Germans.   He should be aware that no matter what Arab leaders explain to him about their tribal alleigences, their assurances have regularly proven hollow, their willingness to make genuine sacrifices for American security negligible and their commitment to peace a fraud, offered as a sly purchase for American aid and protection.

Is it any wonder then that when Israelis hear American generals talk excitedly about the slow pace of  negotiations and its threats to the lives of American soldiers, they can only hang their heads in exasperation?

Interrogating the Detroit Bomber

January 7, 2010

Michael Mukasey, the U.S. Attorney General, 2007-09 writes an outstanding piece in today’s Wall Street Journal  What Does the Detroit Bomber Know?

Mukasey’s views on  the subject  of how the Bomber should have been dealt with are presented succinctly in this paragraph:

” Had Abdulmutallab been turned over immediately to interrogators intent on gathering intelligence, valuable facts could have been gathered and perhaps acted upon. Indeed, a White House spokesman has confirmed that Abdulmutallab did disclose some actionable intelligence before he fell silent on advice of counsel. Nor is it any comfort to be told, as we were, by the senior intelligence adviser referred to above—he of the “no smoking gun”—that we can learn facts from Abdulmutallab as part of a plea bargaining process in connection with his prosecution. “

How much crucial information we may have lost from the failure to regard Abdulmuttalab as a terrorist rather than a criminal, with all the protections that the American system of justice now affords him,  is a symptom of the problems which have engulfed our intelligence services who are politically constrained in executing their responsibilities. Abdulmuttalab is the luckiest terrorist in the world for having landed in the United States.   Where else would someone who had plotted to kill 300 people at the behest  of  an organization determined to see the country of destination destroyed,  be given such immediate assistance and solicitous advice in defending his rights once he lands?  Some state that this bespeaks America’s greatness as a moral nation. 

But what point is there in being moral when you are dead? .

I dealt with this very subject on my radio program yeserday, which you can listen to here.

You might also want to check out other radio programs with similar themes:  The Road from 9/11: How Secure Is the Homeland Today?   and an earlier interview with Victor Davis Hanson The CIA Secret Files: What Are the Consequences for Their Release?

Mukasey’s piece concludes with this terrific final paragraph:

What the gaffes, the almost comically strained avoidance of such direct terms as “war” and “Islamist terrorism,” and the failure to think of Abdulmutallab as a potential source of intelligence rather than simply as a criminal defendant seem to reflect is that some in the executive branch are focused more on not sounding like their predecessors than they are on finding and neutralizing people who believe it is their religious duty to kill us.”

It couldn’t be said better. 

A Decade in Review

January 5, 2010

When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, I had to wonder what all  the fuss was about.  The clock apparently marked off two thousand years, but from what, no one was quite certain.   I guess I am one of those contrarians who believes that we are woefully underserved by the Gregorian Calendar, which has been in use in the West since 1582.  That is because marking off dates in decades, centuries and millennia is next to meaningless when we remember that Jesus was actually born in the year 4 BCE (therefore providing a somewhat awkward starting point for the first millennium); that the Earth’s orbit around the sun takes not 365 days but 365.2423 days, (a number not divisible by 4, 7 or 12) and that there wasn’t even a common subscription to the Gregorian Calendar until England converted to it in 1752 (abandoning the long used Julian Calendar).

Therefore, we might assume, there are minutes, hours and even days that might be unaccounted for in our  spin through the universe.  Given this sad state of affairs, using the clock to mark off a decade seems pretty pointless. With no universally accurate measurement of time, its all just pomp and circumstance about nothing.

Yet dates do bear meaning for us time-bound humans if only as a means of segmenting our lives into appreciable chunks of relevance and allowing us the means of chronicling our passage through life.

The marking of another decade is therefore an opportunity to reflect on what has passed in the ten years since that last supposed millenarian event.

Our past decade was bracketed by two completely unexpected occurences – the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the financial collapse of 2008.  Everything else in between –  the contested federal election of  2000, the three turbulent years of Intifada which broke the back of the Middle East peace process,  the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,  the tsunami which devastated Southern Asia in December, 2004, the flooding of New Orleans in August, 2005 – were blips on our radar screens by comparison.

Having trawled through the events of the decade, there appear four major themes  that I believe will dictate much of what occurs in the coming years of this century:  

1. The Emergence  of Tension between National Security and Individual Rights

After the shock of 9/11 subsided and Americans got on with their normal lives, the horror of the day receded, while the government remained active in pressing for tighter security, passing the Patriot Act of 2002 with little dissent, establishing Guantanomo Bay as a maximum security prison  and creating the Department of Homeland Security. This retreating tide however, exposed the hulk of the embittered federal election of 2000 and the remembrance of George W. Bush as an illegitimate president.

It wasn’t long, then, before the Democratic Party had launched into an assault on the Bush Administration’s national security measures – measures that almost any American government, from left or right, would certainly have enacted following such a devastating attack.

The hatred for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld became so palpable in the latter part of the first Bush Administration that a romday could not go by without some vituperative attack on the character and morals of the governing Administration from some major media source.  The failure to uncover evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the most important reason proffered for the invasion of Iraq, only underscored, for the left at least, the Administration’s mendacity.

As the decade progressed though, it became increasingly clear that the struggle was not between opposing Democratic and Republican policies on issues of national security, but between two fundamentally differing world views.  The war on terror, declared by the Bush Administration, was not a conventional war and could not be fought conventionally.  It would involve not only a struggle abroad, but a struggle to contain potential terrorist activity within.  Therefore wire tapping, stricter control over financial transfers, tough border controls and increased surveillance of potential insurgents within our towns and cities, were all necessary measures.

Yet the idea that Americans might have to surrender some fundamental rights to privacy was anathema to the left and they refused to countenance it.  Perhaps they refused to understand that America was as much at war as it had been in 1917 or 1941; perhaps they failed to appreciate that individual liberty and the protection of personal rights were more robust than they had ever been in America’s history, even with the tightened security measures.  But the venom with which the left attacked these necessary security measures was a gauge of the struggle between the right to privacy and national security imperatives. It will remain the guiding national debate of much of the coming decade.

2. The Rise of Radical Environmentalism

What started as a fringe movement in the early 1970s gained world attention in the 2000s.   Environmentalism transformed from a movement to combat pollution and to conserve wilderness areas  into a multinational effort to build awareness of anthropogenic global warming and as an attack against human development itself.  With world politicians subscribing to the spurious notion of ‘scientific consensus’ on the issue, radical environmentalists, who decry human interference in the environment and are in fact opposed to development of almost any kind, were able to hitch their wagon  to luminaries such as Al Gore and Mikhail Gorbachev and obtain an international spotlight they didn’t otherwise deserve.

But the global warming lobby has not provided entirely convincing science.  Simply put, our climate and weather is governed by so many variables that predictions are fraught with difficulty.  Computer models have been used to advance the idea of likely severe weather change but they are fed data that are not always verifiable.  The same models have been used to predict weather patterns over the coming 100 years, but, as was discovered in October of this year, with the revelation that climate researchers in England manipulated, manufactured or otherwise doctored the same data, put the lie to the idea that climate science is not susceptible to political pressure or ideology.  It seems, at least from the rash of emails uncovered in exchanges between the climate researchers, that sometimes the models are adapted to reach conclusions which are keeping with a political platform rather than as a reflection of real climate science.

The Bush Administration brooked this wave as bravely as it could, but its power as public policy was irresistible.  We have now seen the discussion of global warming completely overwhelm our national narrative and become one of the leading political discussion points of this century. It came into political form last year in the guise of Cap and Trade legislation which thankfully exhausted itself before it could obtain strenuous political support.  But it lives on in the rhetoric of our president, in widespread support in the media and  academia and as a subject of strong advocacy among members of our political class.

But even as the movement has gained such extraordinary traction, there has been a countervailing movement pushing back against it.  It was led by the weather itself.

The past ten years have proven, even according to most climatologists, decidedly colder than the previous twenty.  The year 2008 was actually one of the coldest in the northern hemisphere since the 1850s.  Scientific reports are emerging that  it might not be man-produced fossil fuels which are causing any heating of the earth’s  atmosphere but in fact natural cycles of the sun and the absence of cloud cover.

Whatever the conclusion of the scientific debate, there is now, for once, public discussion on the issue and doubt is beginning to creep into some independent thinkers’ minds.  The collapse of an international agreement on climate control at the International Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December, reflects, to a certain degree, this concern.  We await developments but the likelihood is that anthropogenic global warming will fade as a matter of international consensus.

3.  The Fragility of the International Economic System

Why the financial crash of September 2008 came as such a surprise, is beyond my understanding.  The collapse of major institutions, many of which had been around for a nearly century, was due to a complete failure of imagination and an unwillingness to take seriously the growing signs of collapse.

Credit, used in increasingly complicated and sophisticated ways, to the point where borrowings were made against assets that barely existed, undermined the entire structure of our paper (rather than monetized) economy.  The signs should have been apparent, but even such revered figures as former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, couldn’t figure it out.  But in retrospect it was fairly clear: the economy had grown top heavy with debt based on collapsing assets, and like a listing galleon over-freighted with cargo, just toppled over.

The international repercussions were telling.  Almost every Western economy was struck by the seismic shock which followed the U.S. banking crisis of 2008. It drove down the international value of the dollar, upended the U.S. balance of trade and created havoc in world currency markets.

The cure administered to address the country’s economic woes seemed sometimes worse than the disease. The relatively modest Bush stimulus package in September, 2008 was followed by the massive $787 billion Obama stimulus for 2009, with hundreds of billions being made available to shore up not just the banking and investment industries but public companies as well.  Never in American history had public funds been used to support failing enterprises in this way.   It set an ominous precedent for any future economic difficulties that the country might be forced to confront.

The future of the West and its international financial system hangs in large part, on how the United States manages its fiscal problems.  Building confidence in economic stability is probably the first order of business for any American government.

4. The Scourge of Islamic Fundamentalism

Prior to 9/11 terrorism appeared as little more than nuisance which affected other countries and not the United States.  While it is true there had been urban terrorists of the 70s and 80s, the Oklahoma bombing of 1995 and assorted attacks against American military units stationed outside the country – these were perceived as the work of isolated groups with no unified motivation.  Domestic terrorism, the kind which resulted in huge urban casualties, and motivated by an abiding hatred of U.S citizens as a people, was largely unknown.

The events of that September day, however, changed everything.  The recognition that Americans were vulnerable, not just on isolated military bases in Beirut or Riyadh, but in their own homes and public places, altered the national dialogue. It  has had a sizable impact on daily life, from the lines at security check points at  airports, to the security measures regarding bank accounts to tougher immigration policies.

Yet what has failed to penetrate the West’s public consciousness was the motivation behind the September 11 attacks and the subsequent assaults on Western targets around the world.  The rise of Islam, which began to take its fundamentalist political shape with the establishment of the Iranian theocracy in 1979, gathered clout with the upsurge in oil prices and sought to fill the oppositional role vacated in the 1990s with the fall of communism. Fundamentalist Islamic communities grew prodigiously in Europe where they took advantage of the benevolent welfare benefits offered to new immigrants by their host countries. As they gained in collective confidence and drew inspiration from the growing international prestige of the Iranian theocracy, these communities made a play for political power, though not necessarily through the political system.   The French riots of 2005 and the Danish cartoon riots of 2006, both made it adamantly clear that the Islamic communities of Europe intended to become a serious political force to be reckoned with.

The reaction of the West was craven appeasement. Steeped in multicultural pieties, Western leaders bent over backwards to make it clear they were not knee jerk racists and would take no issue with Muslim demands for a certain degree of  communal autonomy and separation from mainstream culture.  This effort had its crowning achievement in February, 2008 when the Archbishop of Canterbury and the former Chief Justice of Britain both conceded that the establishment of a parallel legal system to adjudicate certain internal Muslim disputes, is  inevitable.

It all took place against a backdrop of the rise of Islamic terrorism throughout the West. The 2002 Bali Night Club bombing,  the  2005 London bombings, the 2006 Madrid Bombings, the 2008 Mumbai attack and hundreds of other assaults on soft targets in major world capitals, were all carried out, almost without exception, in the name of Islam.  Apologists wrung their hands over the claim that these desperate attacks were not the work of true followers of the Muslim faith and that Islam remained a religion of peace.

But contrary proof was readily available.  There were few Muslim religious leaders willing to publicly condemn the terrorist plague which had engulfed the societies in which they lived.  In the United States, the willful blindness to the reality of Muslim representative organizations covertly supporting terrorism while feigning allegiance to American values was even more troubling.  The Bush Administration went out of its way to pretend that the drive behind the terrorist scourge was something other than real Islam and the Obama Administration has continued on the same wayward path.

Until Western leaders connect the dots and recognize that the West is engaged in a physical, moral and philosophical battle with hardened murderers pledged to a religious creed that calls for the the West’s destruction;  until it concedes that representatives of those men live, plot and recruit within their very own societies and are an ever present danger to us; until they face the reality that not all religions are “religions of peace” and that some might actually more resemble death cults pledged to the slaughter of unbelievers – we face a very difficult and prolonged struggle for which there is no certain victory.


The years 2000-2009 have been decried as a lost decade by many pundits and commentators.  I don’t agree with them.  I see the past decade as offering important lessons about the world in which we live – from the true nature of Islam to the fragility of the international economic system to the necessity to sometimes trade individual rights for personal security. What we make of these lessons will determine the kind of world in which we will live in the coming decade.  Lets hope the human capacity for growth, ingenuity and recovery continues to reassert itself and that we will come to view these past ten years as the necessary growing pains of a maturing civilization.


June 12, 2009

For anyone paying close attention, a historic event occurred this week in Europe.  As we go to press, polls reveal that Geert Wilders’ party, the Party for Freedom, has won a sweeping victory in the Dutch section of the European electorate coming in second and  swamping its nearest rival by nearly 20%.

Today’s elections to the European Union parliament are vitally important.  The European parliament in its next session is likely to vote on a number of issues which could affect  trade alliances, the sovereignty of its constituent states and the Trans- Atlantic Alliance.

How has Geert Wilders, labeled by his enemies a racist and bigot, whose pronouncements against Muslim extremism are widely reviled by the European intelligentsia, media and political class, won such an extraordinary level of popularity?

The answer is that Wilders reflects a profound disenchantment with those elites – men and women who are blindly leading that continent to catastrophe.   A willingness to hide behind multicultural slogans and politically correct nostrums, has led to a continent wide rise in anti-Semitism, incipient violence and a vicious anti-democratic movement, led by an empowered Muslim minority.

Wilders recognizes both the seriousness of the threat and the depth of the disenchantment and it is for this reason his popularity has soared.  He is courageously spearheading a movement, at great risk to his own life, to alert his corner of the world to the perils of accommodating fundamentalist Islam.

Across the English Channel another man similarly toils against great adversity and the similar willing denial of the deep problems his country faces from appeasement to Muslim demands.   Alan Craig, a councilman in one of London’s inner suburbs, is fighting a successful campaign to force a secretive fundamentalist Muslim group to bend in its plans to construct a mega mosque near the heart of the still- under-construction 2012 Olympic village.   Craig’s pertinacity, not just in the face of Tablighi Jamaat’s campaign of vilification but in defiance of his many of his political adversaries, is a case study in courage and determination.  There are few men of his caliber today in England who state plainly what all can see – that British identity and national character is in a state of free fall and that no less than national survival is at risk if something is not done to rescue that country from the grip of its multicultural swoon.

These two men exemplify the spirit of the hero of conscience – unafraid to speak plainly and unashamedly that they are sons of the enlightenment and will resist any attempt to deny that legacy.

For that reason the American Freedom Alliance is proud to offer both men its 2009  Heroes of Conscience Awards. This year’s annual dinner,  to be held on Sunday, June 7, at the Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley, will offer us the opportunity to pay tribute to their commitment to Western values and to celebrate with  them the glory of our heritage.

We hope you can join us.

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