Thursday, August 9, 2007

Doom without Gloom or Gloom without Doom

Ira has expressed his doubt about whether or not we can succeed against a determined enemy like Al Qaida.

I am worried that we, whose religious beliefs vary from none to the "ethical culture" mind set of Unitarians, Liberal Christians, Reform Jews, and Westernized Zen Buddhists, can never compete successfully against absolutely TRUE BELIEVER zealots willing to sacrifice their lives at a moment's notice. And, many of them are at least as smart and inventive and industrious as the best of us. How can we ever win? Will we understand this battle will not be over for decades? Will we just "put our head in the sand" and hope for the best?

I have similar concerns. But, let's take a step back both in space and time and be philosophical about a doomsday (or doom century) scenario. Historically, there is no reason for us to expect that any civilization be permanent. Extremely powerful empires like the Roman, Greek, Macedonian and Assyrian have fallen for a myriad and reasons. In more recent times we have seen the Soviet Union, the British Empire and Yugoslavia fall.

We find ourselves in a situation in which the barbarians are at the gates and our allies are weakening. I say barbarians because the forces involved are all anti-liberty, whether they be China, North Korea, Al-Qaeda, Persian, etc. Given the long view of history and the political model of what is happening in Europe, it isn't unreasonable to assume that democracy will be submerged by totalitarian regimes.

My question is this. Is it possible to accept doom without gloom? If so, how? As individuals, we accept that our lives are of finite duration without living our lives in a state of depression. Is sticking one's head in the sand actually a rational national policy such as engaged in by France and Germany?


Howard Pattee said...

I agree with Joel that there are barbarians at the gate. I recently plowed through Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn to Decadence" a history of Western Culture, and he presents the view that the barbarians are inside the gates. The problem is our own declining Western culture. This is a good C-mind point of view.

Ira Glickstein said...

From: Ira Re: Doom without Gloom?

I guess it is possible to accept "doom without gloom" -- the orchestra on the Titanic was supposedly in full fervor as that great ship slipped below the waves!

However, I don't accept that the US or Western Civilization is the Titanic. I have met the "barabarians" and THEY IS (SOME OF) *US*!

The answer to the absolute faith of extreme Islam is faith in our way of life and our diversity and our history of perseverence in the face of facism and communism.

If we recognize we are in a clash of civilizations, and that our main duty is to suport our civilization against the threat from fanatical Islam, we can succeed!

We (US, EU, Japan, ...) still have the most thriving economies and the most open form of government. Let us stop the backbiting and compromise over some relatively small issues and keep our eye on the ball!

I think the relatively conservative Angela Merkle in Germany and now Nicolas Sarkozy in France, along with Tony Blair's successor Gordon Brown in England and our great allies in Australia and so on are recognizing the threat, some of them a bit late, but at least they are.

We can defeat fanatic Islam, but only if we take a long view and look past recent bad decisions and failures.

In addition to the sleeper cells of Islamic terrorists in the US, the "barbarians" among us are those who are pushing the US into what, until recently, were considered radical positions on marriage, sex, privacy, and so on.

I agree some dogmatic religious leaders are misguided and a few even dangerous, but that is no reason to dismiss religion entirely. If we lose our faith entirely we will not survive this clash with extreme faith.

The answer to extreme faith is not a total absence of faith, but rather a moderate type of faith, based on reason, but willing to look above and beyond human capacity for reason alone.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

From HOWARD Re: Avoiding doom by changing course.

As Ira knows from our past discussions, I differ from him on the war. I see the Iraq war as a serious political and moral fiasco that will continue to get worse if we do not completely change our policies and our attitude toward the Middle East. Compromise is not the answer when you have an impending disaster of this magnitude. Thinking that military force can destroy “faith-based” Islamic terrorists, as Bush might put it, is one fatal mistake. Believing that we can convert moderate Muslims to our Western culture by blowing up their cities is another.

History’s lesson is that military force in the long run is useless against religious conviction. Remember that relatively few Christians eventually overcame all the Roman legions. In fact, brute force inflames the true believer and converts the otherwise moderates by the collateral damage that destroys the infrastructure of their society. The war has effectively destroyed Iraq for many years to come, the radical Islamists are growing faster just because of our military destruction, and the professional class has left the country. Furthermore, if we had not invaded Iraq it is unlikely that Iran would have elected the fanatic Ahmadinejad. Afghanistan and Pakistan are also increasingly unstable. Our military behavior, killing civilians and torturing prisoners, whether justified or not, is creating enemies all over the world.

There is no excuse for this war except an imperialist country trying to guarantee its oil supply. Middle East experts warned the administration that Islamic countries were not ready for western culture or democracy. The Bush dynasty knows that the Saudi kings and Sharia are not about to disappear, nor are Sunni vs. Shia conflicts, nor tribal customs. Whatever chance there was for gradually influencing these cultures toward human rights was lost the moment we invaded. The blunt way we use military force is killing more civilians than terrorists. This administration has lost the confidence of most Americans and most of our friends. It has destabilized the entire Middle East and strengthened radical Islam in other countries. I believe that unless we elect wiser leaders, change our own imperialist attitude toward Islam, and begin constructively persuading the majority of moderate Muslims that we are not their primary enemy, hatreds will only increase and the conflict will spread to a worldwide religious war.

Ira Glickstein said...

From Ira: Changing course by how many degrees?

Thanks, Howard for stating your view, which is becoming more and more popular among the American people, that we must "completely change our policies and our attitude toward the Middle East."

"Completely" sounds like a course correction of somewhere around 180 degrees. I favor relatively small changes in course. Who is correct will be unknown for generations. You have made your case in a reserved, rational way and you may even be correct!

We both agree that access to critical energy resources is at the root of the coflict. If the major export of the MidEast was broccoli, our success there would not be important.

Even if Sen. Clinton is elected as our next President, with a Democratic House and Senate (which I reluctantly accept as the most likely outcome), our military forces will remain active in the MidEast for years to come. I remain optimistic that, over the long run (decades, not years), active involvement in that region will not only continue to secure our oil supply but also lead to something like democracy taking root over there. The costs in blood and treasure will be considerable, but if we "keep the faith" that something like democracy does not require the population to be white Protestants, we can succeed.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

From Ira: Changing course by reasonable degrees.

According to an AP story today:
"[Gen. David Petraeus] [t]he top American commander in Iraq said Wednesday he was preparing recommendations on troop cuts before he returns to Washington next month for a report to Congress, and believes the U.S. footprint in Iraq will have to be 'a good bit smaller' by next summer.

"But he cautioned against a quick or significant U.S. withdrawal that could surrender 'the gains we have fought so hard to achieve.'"

These are the types of course changes that make sense to me in the light of our long-term goals and the limits of our all-volunteer armed forces and internal political situation.

In earlier postings on different threads, I mentioned the concepts of "light footprint" and use of technology as "force multipliers". These are still valid concepts when applied correctly. We started this war with too "light" a footprint, too great a reliance on technology, and were over-optimistic with respect to the anti-democratic forces in the MidEast. The recent "surge", followed by the expected troop cuts by next summer are reasonable and moderate "course corrections", IMHO.

I believe Petraeus's statement is the outline for his report to Congress next month. It makes more sense to me than Howard's well-intentioned advice that we have to: "completely change our policies and our attitude toward the Middle East."

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

From Howard Re: Iraq change of policy.

IRA writes: [Petraeus’ policy] makes more sense to me than Howard's well-intentioned advice that we have to: "completely change our policies and our attitude toward the Middle East."

HOWARD responds: I don’t think you have been following the Bush-Rumsfelt policy very closely. The Petraeus policy IS a complete change in behavior and attitude that he has been pushing against Bush and Rumsfeld for years. I’m glad it finally makes sense to you and Bush. I’m just irritated that it took five bloody years to convince Bush.

Here is an excerpt from Packer’s New Yorker article April 10, 2006, “Letter from Iraq. The Lesson of Tal Afar.”

In the first year of the war, Major General David Petraeus achieved a temporary success when, as a divisional commander in northern Iraq, he applied the basic ideas of counterinsurgency. He is now a lieutenant general and commander of the Combined Arms Center, at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas. Petraeus is overseeing a group of active-duty and former officers in the writing of a new joint Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual. “It is, as with many things in life, much easier to explain than to do,” he told me. “But it is very important to get that basic understanding right again, and the power of a field manual is its ability to communicate relatively straightforward concepts. The basic concepts and principles are not rocket science or brain surgery, but they can be very hard to apply.” Counterinsurgency begins, he said, when military leaders “set the right tone.”
In February, I attended a two-day workshop at Fort Leavenworth, where the authors of the draft heard suggestions from an assembly of critics. Petraeus had invited not just military and civilian officials but academics, journalists, and human-rights activists, and the workshop was co-sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, at Harvard’s Kennedy School—in keeping with the draft manual’s claim that counterinsurgency is twenty per cent military and eighty per cent political.
Petraeus in 2004, when Petraeus led the training mission in Baghdad, told me, “It seemed to be an enigma, the U.S. military as an entity. They’re polite, courteous, generous, humble, in a sense. But you see some of the things going on—if I could sum it up, I never saw such a good bunch of people inadvertently piss off so many people.”

The article is at

Ira Glickstein said...

From Ira, Re Gloom without Doom.

Howard, THANKS for pointing us to the New Yorker story (which I've made into clickable form). It is almost two years old but still a worthwhile read, at least the first ten pages. If you run out of steam you can skip the last five that get into some nasty political stuff.

Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld comes off as the stubborn "bad guy" in this piece who would not admit there was an "insurgency" early on. As a result, his military subordinates were unable to use that word or *openly* apply "counter-insurgency" policies on the warfront.

However, according to the story, as early as one or two years into the war, some generals on the ground were applying "hearts and minds" counter-insurgency tactics while others were applying more "hard ass" tactics.

I agree Rumsfeld has to take the blame for the poor results during his period of leadership. He was way too dogmatic about a "light footprint" and failed to heed Army General Shinseki's prescient request for double the number of "boots on the ground."

However, Rumsfeld was arguably the best-qualified Defense Secretary we've ever had and his intelligence is very high. With a secure fortune and no personal plans for higher office, he was undoubtedly trying to serve the country the best way he could. It seems clear now, but there was real debate between experienced generals on the best tactics.

The New Yorker story recounts that debate about tactics within the military, with some experienced generals favoring Rumsfeld's policy while others were arguing for changes and still others were actually implementing the changes in their areas of Iraq.

Contrary to what you wrote, Howard, I have been following the Bush-Rumsfeld policy quite closely. As a former employee of a military contractor (IBM and Lockheed-Martin) I am somewhat familiar with conventional Air Force and Army operations in general, and Special Forces, in particular. (I worked with both Air Force and Army Special Forces helicopter pilots and flew a couple of training missions with them.)

I do not agree with Howard that the Petraeus policy "IS a complete change in behavior" or that "it took five bloody years to convince Bush." Counter-insurgency tactics have been applied in some areas of Iraq nearly since the beginning. Petraeus is the main proponent and the general in charge of the temporary "surge" strategy that appears to be having some military (but not yet political) success. Just yesterday he said he favors troop cuts and a military footprint that is "a good bit smaller" by next summer. Sounds like "light footprint" to me!

His recommendations seem to me to be reasonable "course corrections" rather than anything like a "complete change". (A pull-out from the main trouble areas and re-deployment to Kuwait would be the "complete change" that has been proposed by some in Congress.)

The US military is a great institution with (mostly) excellent people doing their level best to project strength with minimum losses of American soldiers and foreign civilians. However, like any large organization, it cannot be "turned on a dime". Strategy and tactics continually change but it would be dangerous to try to change them instantaneously on a whim.

As for the tragic abuses of civilians and prisoners, there are always some who, under stress, lose their mental bearings, violate the rules, and lash out. Similar things happened in WWII but were never reported and, in most cases, not even prosecuted. In the Internet age they come to light and are prosecuted, which is good.

The outcome in Iraq is many years away and it will not be the "best" - as the cynics say, "the 'best' is the enemy of the 'good enough'". For internal US political reasons, we will have to substantially decrease the "boots on the ground" next year. Perhaps that fact will become clear to Iraqi politicians and push them to some sort of compromise. More likely, it will lead them to embrace their sect (Shia, Sunni, Kurd) more closely. Iraq will become a country in name only, with mostly segregated areas for each major group, with pockets of barely tolerated "others". Not the idealistic outcome hoped for by Bush and Rumsfeld, but, perhaps, "good enough for gevernment work".

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

From: HOWARD Re: Gloom and Doom

As usual, Ira and I are not as far apart as we sound. I agree that events on the ground can’t change on a dime. I was thinking of the difference in attitude between making friends and making enemies. I hopefully detect a basic change from Bush’s crusader cowboy bluster that made so many enemies to Petraeus policy of making friends. Bush was good at making enemies. I think Petraeus is good at making friends, but it may be too late.