Monday, December 04, 2006

This is a repost of my very first blog post, and I'm reposting it because: 1)I want to, 2) I think it's still relevant, and 3) now some folks are actually reading my blog, so...

have at 'er...

John Podhoretz, in the NY Post, writes in Too Nice to Win/Israel's Dilemma (link updated to a blog copy of the article since the NY Post archived it),

"What if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?...Are [the enemies of the western powers] seeking victory through demoralization alone - by daring us to match them in barbarity and knowing we will fail? Are we becoming unwitting participants in their victory and our defeat? Can it be that the moral greatness of our civilization - its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all - is endangering the future of our civilization as well?"

Podhoretz continued:

"Didn't the willingness of [WWII Allied] leaders to inflict mass casualties on civilians indicate a cold-eyed singleness of purpose that helped break the will and the back of their enemies? Didn't that singleness of purpose extend down to the populations in those countries in those days, who would have and did support almost any action at any time that would lead to the deaths of Germans and Japanese?"

The entire implication in Podhoretz’ article is that it’s time to get down to winning no matter what ethical lines need to be crossed even though, of course, Podhoretz can deny that, given that he didn’t answer even one of his own questions.

So…what are you thinking right now? Has Podhoretz got you thinking it’s time to forget about valuing individuals for a while and get down to the job of kicking ass with the same utter lack of civility we are seeing from the terrorists. If so, you’ve been conned and I got news…If you think for one minute that western civilization's "astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all is endangering the future of our civilization...", then you are wrong.

First: The West (using the term loosely) hasn't been granting the Arab world their individualism, or showing them great humanitarianism, for a fucking dog's age. What western governments have been doing in the Arab world hasn't had or got the slightest thing to do with any "astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all." Instead, Western motives and actions in the Islamic world haven't been much different than, for example, the motives of the first waves of imperialist European settlers who occupied Turtle Island (look it up if you need to).

Say what you wish about the tactics they're using right now or the causes they represent, it's still true that the Arabs or Islamists throughout the Middle East, and certainly the supporters of Hezbollah, have far more in common with, say, the Indians under British rule than they do any type of militarist expansionist state like Germany or Japan. Almost the entire Arab world has been occupied or politically interfered with by foreign nations and their protected companies, economic "aid" and "development" agencies since at least the turn of the last century--and in lots of cases a lot longer. In other words, the Arab world has essentially been occupied by Russia, Britain, Germany, the United States, and by any number of less-powerful countries, alone or together and generally allied with one or more of the those biggies. In contrast, the Arab world hasn't historically made any huge efforts to take us over, at all.

What we've lost in the Middle East, we've largely lost because we weren't focusing on the value of the individual enough.

All I’m saying here is that even though we do have a perfect right to totally eliminate a threat to us from, say, Osama bin Laden, we'd bloody better still keep in mind why he's so fucking upset and why it seems fairly easy for him to obtain followers to do the kinds of things they do. It might be things like (from a letter bin Laden wrote to Americans a few years ago)

when [former President George H.W.] Bush, the father, visited the area...some of our own were impressed by America and were hoping that the visits would affect and influence our countries. Then, what happened was that he [Bush] was impressed by the monarchies and [supported them while they were] staying in power for tens of years, embezzling the public money without any accountability"
It might be things like how we supported Iran’s Savak, sowing the seeds for an Ayatollah Khomeini to arise and take power in Iran. I mean, do you really think most Iranians, who were becoming westernized up to the point we clearly began supporting a tyrant, really actually hoped then for a return to fully blown Islamic fundamentalism?. Understand, me: I like George Sr. as a person, and he wasn't the worst or the first, and I even think he meant well, but...

Get real. We radicalized them. And we didn't do it out of any concern or consistent regard for Arab or Islamic individualism. We did it because it suited our government’s purposes, which is to say--in many cases--it also suited companies unduly protected by western powers. It is also fair to say that, in many ways and for example, much of the Middle East was essentially annexed during major but dominantly western wars.

Second, there is precious little in common between the concept of national interest (at least government backed commercial and political interest beyond the physical borders of a nation) and that of individualism. To now say "[we] have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of [our] own national interests"--implying that an objective view would show us that we need to drop our humanitarian concern, our astonishing focus on the value of the individual, now, in the interests of our nation, and do some very much more "collateral damage intensive" things over there--is almost a perversion of language.

Get this; it's simple: Treating people as individuals means you let them be them as long as, and any time, they leave you alone too. And you then deal with them on those terms--or you don't deal with them. If you can't deal with them on those terms, you don’t trade with them, you don't take them over, you don't take their stuff, you don't choose their governments and you don't insult their belief systems and way of life. Instead, you simply do without stuff they have that you might want if you can’t get it without them--and, if you wish, you hope they come around. That's respecting people as individuals, and it's the only thing that is enough to ultimately conquer the zealots and the tyrants of the Islamic nations.

Why?

Because there's a smuggled premise right through Podhoretz' article: it's the idea that there is a paradox between what is our best and what keeps or protects our best. Individualism, expressly acknowledged as such by Podhoretz' article, is the best--and about that he's right. We can't keep it by throwing it away; we keep it by keeping it.

Because, for a great example, it took a potent combination of two things for the west to ultimately beat the Soviets once they were entrenched enough to fight the Cold War.

1) We didn't displace the Soviets because we pummeled the daylights out of them--but because, after decades of increasingly becoming aware of the comparative freedom and prosperity of the west, the individuals who lived in Russia wanted what we had, as individuals. Hell, even Gorbachev was astonished at how good we had it, and he admits it. If they hadn't wanted what we had, no power on Earth would have made those individuals question and then reject their oppressive government, even with Star Wars. In other words, we overcame to the degree we did when we led by example.

2) And because two leaders (Reagan and Gorbachev, as flawed as you might justifiably feel they were) made a conscious decision to see each other--and the citizens of their respective countries--as individuals.

The implication of this Podhoretz article is just another in a long list of calls for expedience over ethics and the implication should be soundly rejected. If we give up our astonishing focus on the value of the individual (even such as it is lately--and it's in tatters), what difference does it make who wins?

1 comment:

scout said...

great commentary ron! i really can't add anything else to it......besides, my brain is full of snoggies, boo hoo, i have a cold!!!

how was edmunchuck?