The magazine you need to read on Afghanistan
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In his review of Bernard-Henri Levi, the very public French intellectual's new book Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism, Hitchens offers his own critique of the left.
First he sums up what he believes is BHL's political view: he is not only anti-fascist but also anti-totalitarian. In his book, Hitchens writes, BHL shows:
...how agonized he is by leftist compromises with every disgraced regime and ideology from Slobodan Milosevic to Islamic jihadism, but the effort expended is worthwhile and shows some of the scars of political warfare from Bangladesh to Bosnia. He is much readier to defend Israel as a democratic cause than are most leftists and many Jews, but he was early in saying that a Palestinian state was a good idea, not because it would appease Arab and Muslim grievances but for its own sake. (This distinction strikes me as both morally and politically important.)
He then goes on to quote BHL directly:
“I’m convinced that the collapse of the Communist house almost everywhere has even, in certain cases, had the unexpected side effect of wiping out the traces of its crimes, the visible signs of its failure, allowing certain people to start dreaming once again of an unsullied Communism, uncompromised and happy.”
And of course he adds his own (worthwhile) comments:
If this is not precisely true, even of those nostalgic for “Fidel,” apologetic about Hugo Chávez, credulous about how “secular” the Baath Party was, or prone to sympathize with Vladimir Putin concerning the “encircling” of his country by aggressive titans like Estonia and Kosovo and Georgia, still it does contain a truth. One could actually have gone further and argued that the totalitarian temptation now extends to an endorsement of Islamism as the last, best hope of humanity against the American empire. I could without difficulty name some prominent leftists, from George Galloway to Michael Moore, who have used the same glowing terms to describe “resistance” in, say, Iraq as they would once have employed for the Red Army or the Vietcong. Trawling the intellectual history of Europe, as he is able to do with some skill, Lévy comes across an ancestor of this sinister convergence in a yearning remark confided to his journal by the fascist writer Paul Claudel on May 21, 1935: “Hitler’s speech; a kind of Islamism is being created at the center of Europe.”
Putting this latest work in context, Hitchens writes:
In his last book, a retracing of Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” Lévy appeared in the role of mediator at a time when French-American relations were in a sorry condition. Here, too, he takes a stand against the mindless anti-Americanism that is so prevalent among the lumpen intellectuals of Europe. In his view, the phenomenon has two highly unpleasant subtexts to it. The first is envy and resentment, deriving from the fact that the United States has several times intervened to save Europe from itself and from the consequences of its ideological dementias. The second, perhaps not unrelated, is a no-less-envious perception of America as a handmaiden and vassal of the Jews.
And for those who will probably not read BHL's book (me, for example), Hitchens reveals his ultimate prescription for how the Left can fix itself. In Hitchens' words:
The left, he insists, must renounce any version of ultimate or apocalyptic history, along with any mad schemes to create heaven on earth. A secular, pragmatic humanism will be quite demanding enough, thank you.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason make a compelling case for reempowering the tribal councils in Afghanistan in the October issue of the Atlantic Monthly.
Politically and strategically, the most important level of governance in Afghanistan is neither national nor regional nor provincial. Afghan identity is rooted in the woleswali: the districts within each province that are typically home to a single clan or tribe.
The rural Pashtun south has its own systems of tribal governance and law, and its people don’t want Western styles of either. But nor are they predisposed to support the Taliban, which espouses an alien and intolerant form of Islam, and goes against the grain of traditional respect for elders and decision by consensus. Re-empowering the village coun cils of elders and restoring their community leadership is the only way to re-create the traditional check against the powerful political network of rural mullahs, who have been radicalized by the Taliban. But the elders won’t commit to opposing the Taliban if they and their families are vulnerable to Taliban torture and murder, and they can hardly be blamed for that.
Perhaps most important, district-based teams would serve as the primary organization for Afghan rural development.
Local teams with on-site development personnel—“District Development Teams,” if you will—could change all that, and also serve to support nonmilitary development projects. State Department and USAID personnel, along with medics, veterinarians, engineers, agricultural experts, hydrologists, and so on, could live on the local compounds and work in their districts daily, building trust and confidence.
...As long as the compounds are discreetly sited, house Afghan soldiers to provide the most visible security presence, and fly the Afghan flag, they need not exacerbate fears of foreign occupation. Instead, they would reinforce the country’s most important, most neglected political units; strengthen the tribal elders; win local support; and reverse the slow slide into strategic failure.
Are things really this bad in Saudi? Did President Bush really become a "locus of hope for Saudi women"? From today's NYT's story on how Oprah delivers daily solace to Saudi women? From a mother of five in Riyadh:
“Many of us feel that the solutions for our problems have to come from outside,” Ms. Muhammad said. When President Bush visited Saudi Arabia in January, she continued, as an example, his presence briefly became a locus of hope for Saudi women. “A lot of women were saying that they wished they could talk to Bush about problems like forced marriage, about how our children are taken away if our husbands divorce us.”
Monday, September 15, 2008
According to Jeffrey Goldberg in the latest issue of The Atlantic:
McCain calls Terror and Consent “the best book I’ve ever read on terrorism.Goldberg says Henry Kissinger recommended the book. As Goldberg reports:
Kissinger, a foreign-policy “realist,” embraces [the author, Philip] Bobbitt’s argument that the so-called Bush Doctrine is “incoherent” because its call for the democratization of Arab states undermines another of its principles, the need to “preclude” states from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. . .
The most controversial of Bobbitt’s assertions is that the absence of actual stores of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq does not undermine the need for America to “preclude”—he prefers preclude to preempt—certain countries from developing WMDs in the future.
As Bobbit writes in the book:
The war against a global terror network, al Qaeda, is in an early phase. Yet already owing to the Coalition invasion of Iraq, terrorists from this network or any other cannot someday call on Saddam Hussein to supply them covertly with weapons with which to attack the West when he would not have dared to have done so directly, and when he, but not they, had the resources to buy into a clandestine market in WMD.
According to Goldberg:
McCain believes strongly that the only way to ensure Saddam would never pose a threat to American interests was to remove him from power. “Is there anyone who believes that Saddam Hussein wouldn’t have pursued WMD?” he asked me. “He told his interrogators he would. Is there anybody who believes that the sanction regime was going to hold, or that the status quo would hold, or that sooner or later they wouldn’t shoot down one of our planes patrolling the no-fly zone?”
Goldberg claims that this comment is identical to what McCain told him around the time he originally voted to use military force against Iraq:
“There is no such thing as containment,” he said then. “If we don’t act, we’ll pay the price later. If we ‘give peace a chance,’ Saddam will pursue his ambitions against us, but he will be more powerful, and more deadly than ever.”
As Goldberg continues:
I asked Kissinger whether he thinks that McCain can be too inflexible on the subject of preemption. He said McCain will not change his mind if he feels that the nation’s defense is at stake. Much of this, Kissinger continued, is related to McCain’s sense of national honor, and personal honor. “He will not do the easy thing,” he said. . .Goldberg goes on to try and assess what McCain will do with respect to Iran:
McCain’s father, Kissinger said, saw the world the same way McCain sees it. “He was a military man, not a diplomat. Both men grasp the notion of consequences. From about 1967 on, we were experiencing a national trauma, with obsessive doubts about the fitness of government and with a yearning to just get out of Vietnam and get it over with, with a refusal to look at the consequences. Both of them understood that withdrawal without honor has costs. The son knows this from his own experience and from his father.”
The most plausible target of a McCain-ordered preemptive war would be Iran. In January 2006, he said, “There’s only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option—that is a nuclear-armed Iran. The military option is the last option, but cannot be taken off of the table.”
Goldberg writes that McCain described to him, after he said this, a scenario which would, in his view, trigger a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic:
“If we knew with absolute certainty that the Iranians were going to support Hezbollah to make sure they got a weapon of mass destruction in southern Lebanon—would we just wait until Hezbollah attacks Israel with that weapon? Well, first of all, I don’t think the Israelis would wait, but I’m not sure. The consequences, as we know, are catastrophic.” (In May, when I asked McCain why the defense of Israel was an American national-security interest, he said, “The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust.”)McCain, says Goldberg, is aware that his position here is not necessarily popular:
“With preemption, the connotation is that the cowboy just wants to go out and attack people,” he said. “The country is in one of our occasional periods of isolationism, a reaction to what [the public views] as failure, even when we are succeeding in Iraq—and we have succeeded in Iraq. There’s still going to be a greater reluctance than there was” before the Iraq War to try to stop an adversary from gaining possession of weapons of mass destruction.
As he said this, he seemed depleted by the discussion of preemption. It’s not the first unpopular cause he’s adopted, but it might be the most difficult one to sell to the American public.
“It’s very hard to run for president on this idea right now.”