||Participate in the discussion: E-mail Andrew.
Saturday, November 02, 2002
Dear Mr. Hitchens: In an April interview (a link to which was posted on Andrew's site), you are quoted as follows: "Then there's a thing that George Orwell talks about quite well, which may be also what you mean: is, if you take a position in favor of any person, person A, and if A is in opposition to B, then person C can say that, well, whatever you say on behalf of [against?] A benefits B, objectively. And I learned when I was quite young to distrust any sentence that began with or involved the use of the word 'objectively,' because it's trying to impose arithmetic where it doesn't belong. You can perfectly well say that I think A is right about this, and dislike B just as much as A does, but not in the same way. It's dishonest for someone to just aggregate these things and say, 'well you made a point for A, which means B is that one point down.' It's not true, for one thing. And the motives for saying it are usually shady. But at the moment, my mailbox is full of people effectively accusing me of that, of being a propagandist for George Bush, let's say. It doesn't worry me particularly for myself; but it worries me that so many people have been so poorly educated that they can think that was a good point, or a good method of reasoning, when it's not really a method of reasoning at all."
This reasoning is precisely that used by Lenin at the time of the Kronstadt uprising (those in revolt objectively served the interests of the Whites). Nonetheless, I note a certain reluctance on your part to place blame for this type of thinking on him. Is this correct and, if so, why?
Dear Blame Lenin,
Even when I was still a member of the hard (or hard-ish) Left, there were certain phrases that had long become self-satirising. "Objectively", when used in a certain tone of voice, was definitely one of these. ("Concrete" was another, as was the opening phrase, "It is no accident that...") Of course the Bolsheviks were great artists at this, but that's odd in a way because the reasoning involved is purely subjective and belongs to the empiricist rather than - to coin a phrase - the dialectical method. Thus, "you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists." The appeal is to simple-mindedness or tribalism under the guise of common sense, which is why it must always be distrusted.
Mr. Hitchens: Overall, I enjoyed your book, as I have practically everything you have written. I can't think of a more likely "biographer" of Orwell than yourself. All right, enough with the compliments.
I wish you had fleshed out your chapter on postmodernism a bit more. You correctly rescued Orwell from the bodysnatchers on the right, but strangely neglected postmodernists who have committed the same atrocity. Richard Rorty devoted an entire chapter to abducting Orwell for his non-empirical purposes, claiming that "1984" is not about the totalitarian denial of reality. For Rorty, two plus two equal four is merely a sentence; it represents nothing. Were you not aware of Rorty's chapter? Read carefully, "1984" is a warning against the totalitarian implications of postmodernism. Indeed, the torture scene between O'Brien and Smith reads like a debate between a post modernist and empiricist with the former's hand on the switch.
I also detected a new appreciation of Orwell the Cold Warrior. You are still attacking conservatives, but it seems you're now doing it with a Cold War standard (i.e., the cozy wartime relationship between conservatives and Stalin). Why are you so confident that Orwell would have been against American participation in Vietnam? If he indeed was, as you say, a political schizophrenic, then his anti-imperialism might have been "canceled out" by his equally fervent anti-communism.
Dear Fleshed Out,
Thank you for your kind words. I admit that the chapter on post-modernism is a bit undernourished (though I think the section on Claude Simon's literary atrocities puts some flesh on the gnawed bones) and the honest confession I make is this. If I find I am bored to the point of weeping when writing for myself, I decide to keep it brief when offering it to others. I can't think how I missed Rorty, but miss him I did. (I seem to keep putting off my reading of his supple and enticing prose.)
By the way, the sentence "two plus two..." does have a real-world reference. Stalin's fans claimed to have completed the "Five Year Plan" in only four years, and the slogan for the slow on the uptake was "2+2=5" . It's in my book, for those who might be seduced by this disclosure.
I assure you that when I was a Trotskyist I was making those points about the collusion between Stalin and the Right. As for Vietnam, among the myriad condemnations of the war one must mention two salient ones: it began as a rescue operation for French colonialism in Indochina, and this sordid fact necessitated a lot of official lying and covert action. I doubt that Orwell would have had any difficulty seeing through this if he had lived to see Dien Ben Phu in 1954, and the prescient remarks he does make (which I cite) lent support to this interpretation. However, if he had changed his tune it would have been a pleasure to argue with him.
It was my pleasure to attend a lecture by Anthony Burgess at Duke back in the early 70s. Asked whether "Clockwork Orange" was his view of what the future would look like, his answer was unforgettable. Essentially, he responded that those writing about the future were generally writing about the present, but taking some current trend and carrying it out to its logical conclusion. He backed this up with the claim that "1984" was originally titled "1948," but Orwell was censored and forced to rename his book, to which he responded with this transposition. I've NEVER seen this tidbit mentioned anywhere since then. Can I pretend to be a reporter for a moment, seeking a second source for confirmation of something I know next to nothing about, beyond having read the obvious books?
I attack Burgess's silly novel "1985" in my book (partly because it was itself a banal and one-dimension extension of recent headlines) and don't trust him as an interpreter of Orwell in any case. (His novel "Earthly Powers" is, however, a masterpiece.)
The working title for "1984" was "The Last Man in Europe", but Orwell seems to have accepted the suggestion that something looming yet distant would be more effective. He would never have allowed a publisher to impose a change - the record on this is very clear - and he never thought of titling it for the year in which it was being written, though I think the dates were transposed for effect. I have often wondered if it would possess the same potency under another name, or hieroglyphic number. (Heller's Catch-22 was originally called Catch-18...)
Riddle me this: If Orwell was neither categorically Liberal nor Conservative, what variable guided his positions across both camps? Some kind of self defined Rationalism? How would you define his guiding star[s], in detail?
Orwell always described himself as a socialist, never as a liberal. He disliked the Tory Party and the class system and the empire. His rationalism has been described (by me) as "Protestant Atheism". That is, he had a great respect for scripture and for the hymnal, and employed their images and rhythms in his own prose. His favorite line of justification was a line from John Milton - "By the known rules of ancient liberty.." This expressed the conviction that there was a common and innate understanding of freedom, which would outlive all ideologies. The energy of the Protestant revolution began with its demand that the Bible be translated out of Latin, where it was the secret book of an "Inner Party" elite, and made available in the vernacular. (Men like William Tyndale lost their lives on this proposition, but the King James Bible and the Cranmer Prayer Book are great works of literary English.) This Protestant revolution has its most noble outcome in the work of Thomas Paine, of whom Orwell was also a admirer.
The connection between this and Orwell's struggle to purify language is, I think, obvious when you reflect upon it. His separate dislike of the Roman Catholic church arose first from its long championship of the wrong side in the battles over enlightenment and science and free expression, and second from its ambivalence (to phrase the matter politely) about Franco, Mussolini and Hitler.
Gentleman, I have a question to pose in light of the exchange today on Orwell and his relationship with the Left and Right. Orwell, while remaining a socialist, was, it was fair to say, quite alienated from many of the intellectuals in that movement. He essentially " broke " with his comrades over the issue of their intellectual dishonesty in regards to Stalinist totalitarianism in Spain and pro-Nazi pacifism (1939-1941). Several other dissimilar figures of letters -- Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, Norman Podhoretz -- also broke with the Left, and if I may be bold, Mr. Hitchens seems to be taking his leave over the Left's nihilistic appeasement of Islamofascism.
Does a common psychological thread tie these "heretical" figures together? Never having been a Leftist and viewing the mental framework of these writers through their works, I would say an attachment or regard for objectivity and perhaps a universal moral standard played a role in each case. Is rejecting the old habit of "No enemies on the Left" the first step in this evolution?
Perhaps, had Orwell lived longer and watched more of the twentieth century unfold, changes in his political outlook might have anticipated the arrival of the neoconservatives.
Dear Neocon (if I must..)
There used to be a saying among the hard-bitten Left, or rather a question asked knowingly among them, to the effect of "When Was Your Kronstadt?" In other words, at what point had they broken decisively with "The Party"? The best answer on record comes from Daniel Bell, who would reply that "Kronstadt was my Kronstadt". But of course Bell continued to term himself a socialist. Of the people you mention, Chambers and Horowitz were at one point believing Stalinists, whereas (as far as I can discern from his turgid self-regarding memoirs) Podhoretz was never on the "Left" in any meaningful sense at all. And, as I have documented carefully, Podhoretz is guilty of deliberate and crude distortion of Orwell's views.
Orwell never had any Communist illusions to lose, and his encounters with the reality of Stalinism pushed him over to the Marxist Left, where he placed himself with people like Victor Serge and CLR James. This is quite a different evolution. If you were looking for an American analogy, the late Sidney Hook would be a closer one than the ones you mention. Orwell might have been tempted by the neo-con bait, as Hook eventually was, but the plain fact is that he was offered platforms of that kind and declined them firmly. (It's in my book...)
As for myself, I always hated the Communist Party and considered myself to be operating from its left. And frankly, opposition to Islamo-fascism seems like (a phrase I seldom use) "a no-brainer". So I doubt that there is any common "psychological thread" connecting the people you instance.
- 9:02 AM
Thursday, October 31, 2002
MORE TO AND FRO:
SPOTTING A TORY:
Dear Mr. Hitchens: 'You can spot a Tory because he or she prefers poetry that rhymes?' The corollary would be that you won't find anyone on the left reading Byron. But then, you do. It does seem a little unsafe, identifying a person's politics by their preferred structure for a poem.
Dear Spotting a Tory,
That will teach me to try and be funny. I simply assembled a list of traditionalist character-features among the English, of which that was one. Puzzled readers can look up the whole thing...at a price.
REGRETS? YOU GOT A FEW?
Dear Mr. Hitchens: Thanks for your time--and for your courage. To be honest, though I am a bit perplexed. I am fascinated by people who change positions, ideologies, faiths, etc. (though you may not characterize yourself as such). You write, "The test of any serious person is his or her ability to handle contradictions, and to recognise them in himself or herself as well as in others, and then to confront them honestly." I suppose you pass that particular test with colors flying (and, of course, was it Emerson who said something to the effect that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds (apropos of Hallowe'en))?
In any event, as far as I am concerned, anyone who speaks well of Orwell (and no, of course he wasn't "perfect") verges on the heroic (especially in this benighted age), if not the transcendent. Still, I am most curious how you reconcile your affiliations - and beliefs - in the past with today's "discovery" of Orwell's unsquinting honesty.
Do you have any regrets (of an intellectual kind, that is - I realize one can always be proud of one's youthful energies - and perhaps, indiscretions (though how old were you on September 11, 2001?)) Would you characterize September 11, 2001 as a personal fiery angel on your "road to Damascus"? If so, how - and why?
I think that regret is for those you didn't sleep with, while remorse is for those with whom you did. There are some past battles where I wish I had done more for the cause, and very few moments over which I feel embarrassment. (I was fifty-two, since you ask, on 11 September 2001.) It was a clarifying day all right, but the thing began for me on 14 February 1989, when Khomeini issued his "fatwah" against Salman Rushdie. I have been denouncing "under-reaction" to Islamic theocratic violence ever since, and it begins to look like steady work.
WHAT THE DICKENS?
This is more of a request for an elaboration than it is an attempt to provoke a debate:
You don't pay much attention to Orwell's essay on Dickens other than to dismiss it, if I remember correctly, as too easy an assessment on Dickens. For my money, the essay is praiseworthy if only for one phrase -- "smelly little orthodoxies."
What's wrong with Dickens that Orwell missed? And why do you think he missed it?
I probably should have said more about this, but though I treasure Orwell's essay on Dickens I think he misses the point (later made at much greater length by Peter Ackroyd, and with much more acute observation) that Dickens was a very conservative author indeed. That's the whole interest of Orwell's judgement that he was "an author worth stealing".
What do you think about this book that rewrites Animal Farm? I read an article about it in the New York Press, which says the author, John Reed, blames Orwell for the 9/11 attacks. A little extreme, no? The book sounds fairly interesting, however. Snowball the pig comes back to bring capitalism to the farm. And that has some pitfalls of its own. I think the book got delayed in publication because of some threats by the Orwell estate, so it isn't out for another two weeks (?), but I thought you might have gotten an advanced copy, and would have an opinion about it.
Dear Another Farm,
I have no idea what you are talking about, and don't read the New York Press, but would be fascinated to hear more.
However, as I point out in my book, capitalism IS restored to Animal Farm, when Napoleon invites Farmer Jones and the humans to come back. I think it's even renamed Manor Farm. Few readers notice this, but it's what Trotsky ("Snowball") predicted that the Soviet state would ultimately do, and it's a clue to the Mafia capitalism that now flourishes in Moscow.
BETTER THAN FICTION:
I want to tell about an episode concerning "1984." My aunt, a teacher of literature, emigrated from Romania to Israel in the 1960s. "1984" was, of course, strictly forbidden and unavailable in communist countries, so my aunt only read the book in Israel. After reading it she asked me if I had read the book. When I told her I had, she asked: "How did he know ? Has he ever lived in the USSR?"
This question remains stuck in my memory. You see, it is common wisdom among all people who lived under communism that a Westerner, one who has not lived there, would never be able to really understand the full horror of communism. No amount of reading or hearing tales can make them really understand. The exception is George Orwell. He fully understood communism, and described it in "1984".
My aunt could not believe that this exact description of the deep horror of communism is the fruit of an imagination, as she believed communism was horrible beyond imagination. Westerners regard "1984" as a piece of fiction (science fiction?), but my aunt regarded it as a faithful (though stylized) rendering of reality, which could have been produced only by someone familiar with that reality, and not by a Westerner.
I doubt that many Westerners do grasp that "1984" is not "fiction."
Dear Better Than Fiction,
Not to bang my own drum again, but I have an extended discussion of this in my book. In 1951 Czeslaw Miloscz wrote "The Captive Mind", reporting (among other things) on his life as a cultural official in Stalinised Poland. He disclosed that "1984" was being read, in a secret and illegal translation, by members of the inner party. And he commented on their astonishment at the discovery that Orwell had never visited the Soviet Union. Thus, a novel about a secret book within an inner party is, within a year of its publication and its author's death, an actual secret or samizdat book within an inner party! Miloscz is now the acknowledged literary laureate of Poland: I think his observation in 1951 is one of the greatest tributes ever paid by one author to another.
However, there isn't much mystery about the origin of the insight. I wish you would read my entire chapter but, briefly:
1) Orwell had seen a full-scale Communist purge and witch-hunt, at first hand and at risk to his own life, in Barcelona in 1937.
2) He had been a policeman and a jailer himself while in the colonies, and he understood the sado-masochism that is involved in domination.
3) He had seen that poverty and misery make people more servile rather than less.
The above three elements (there are more, but these are crucial) are of course the essential building-blocks of "1984".
I hope that your mother is still with us: if so you can tell her that she was as good an intuitive critic as Miloscz.
- 6:49 PM
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
THE EMAILS POUR IN
In your book on Orwell, you note that he was opposed to abortion and artificial contraception. Where do you think this strong commitment to the "right to life" comes from in Orwell's moral universe? And does this commitment on Orwell's part to a "pro-life" position contribute to the disdain for him that affects much of the modern Left? Personally, I have always seen the pro-life cause as being primarily a liberal or even leftist one, a natural outgrowth of an egalitarian concern for each and every human being, as opposed to an almost Toryish support for abortion that one finds in the writings of Robert Nisbet, for example.
I would, with reluctance, attribute Orwell's pro-life stance to his fear that he was himself sterile, and to his lifelong wish to become a father (and to be as unlike his own father as possible) and to his eventual recourse to adoption. This may seem to "personalise" things a trifle, but it is borne out by the clues in his writing. I have met many women who have or had difficulty in becoming pregnant: their misery was much enhanced by reading of other women who couldn't wait to abort. Some men feel this way, too..
There's a more general reaction against anything "un-natural" to be found in Orwell's work. Much of this is naive and even, if you like, artificial. (There's nothing necessarily more "natural" in rural life than in urban life.) But it was an unexamined part of his Tory patrimony..
Andrew's gruesome Church, for example, always uses the prefix "artificial" before the word "contraception" - as if this condemned it. Why not "artificial" brain-surgery or even obstetrics? Admittedly, there isn't much "artificial" about the rhythm method or even about abstention - except that both involve hypocritical or superstitious pretense. Orwell clearly felt that the word "conception" meant what it said, but he never fell for the Catholic nonsense about hand-jobs being genocide and if he had lived to see the IUD he would have known better than to classify it as a murder-weapon. True, he didn't like contraception either - it was a purely rubberised business in those days - but he wouldn't have condemned it in the same breath as abortion. Think how much wretchedness could be avoided, or could have been avoided, if the Church would drop this dogma of equivalence.
THE HOME SIDE:
I am amused by the parallel between the scorn you have endured as a modern iconoclast on the left, and the near pathological hatred of Mr. Orwell by his "fellow travelers." Two people crossing paths along a journey in different directions would be a more suitable description of Mr. Orwell's journey as well as your own experience when you forgot to cheerlead for the home side. My question to you is, would you argue that the scorn expressed towards those who challenge orthodoxy in the group is a typical human reaction, or a fatal flaw of those on the left? I am inclined to argue the former. It was Reagan after all, who added an 11th commandment for true believers: "Thou shall not attack another Republican." Following up on this thought, can there be a self-sustaining movement that allows for dissent, yet still retains a semblance of unity?
Dear Home Side,
I have read furious and fratricidal polemics between conservatives, replete with accusations of original bad faith and ultimate treason, but I have never been the object of such a diatribe (or at least, not from the inside). I can say, however, that there is an especial venom and dishonesty in some "Left" polemic. Just today, for example, I was sent a lying and illiterate screed written by Richard Goldstein in the Village Voice. It states that Orwell fingered Jews and homosexuals to the authorities "during the McCarthy era" (an era which by the way began after Orwell was dead) and says that I defend Orwell for this vileness. He is claiming to have read my chapter on the subject, which means either that he is engaging in conscious falsification or that he is not qualified to read or review a book. Perhaps both....
However, in my book I do review the writing of the neo-conservative Norman Podhoretz on Orwell, and show that he has deliberately mangled and distorted straightforward excerpts from Orwell's own work. I first pointed this out in print in 1984 in Harper's Magazine, since which time Podhoretz has several times reprinted his original essay without repairing the amputated quotes..
I don't want to seem even-handed about this ("attacked by extremists of left and right" is an unfailing sign of self-satisfaction in an author) but there is no doubt that ideological zeal can make impoverished mediocrities even worse. Goldstein and Podhoretz are writing in an open society where their idiotic depredations can be quickly checked and exposed. Imagine what they would be like if they were the literary enforcers in a "correct" state...
A CONSERVATIVE ORWELL?
I have tried and failed to locate a figure roughly equivalent to George Orwell on the right. If there is one, it seems he keeps himself well beneath notice..
If there were an Orwellian conservative, so to speak, who do you suppose would admire him, and what sort of person might be said to carry his torch?
Dear Conservative Orwell (another mode of salutation I never thought I'd employ)
Probably the nearest equivalent to your figure would be Robert Conquest (to whom I dedicate my book). He's now 85 and was a premature anti-fascist as well as a premature anti-Stalinist. He might not want to be identified as a full-out conservative, because he is an ex-Marxist and was a committed social democrat - and even voted for Clinton in 1992! - but he has found a sort of home on the civilised Right, and his great histories of Stalinism are fair to all sides in the dispute except the outright propagandists and liars. He's also a magnificent essayist and poet, and I hope all readers of this site will make haste to look up his works.
A CONSERVATIVE HITCHENS?
I was pleasantly surprised that Christopher Hitchens did not express more concern than he did about possible co-optation of Orwell by the Right. Would it be off-topic to ask Christopher if he is at all worried about being co-opted by the Right himself, in light of what appears to be a growing, if guarded, appreciation for his writings among some conservatives?
Dear Conservative Hitchens (these modes of address are beginning to get to me...)
I stopped identifying myself politically about two years ago, which meant in practice that I no longer thought it worthwhile to say I was a socialist. It doesn't sting me when leftists accuse me of being a class traitor or a sellout, because that language lost its power decades ago in any case. I would, however, distinguish myself from people like David Horowitz - who has been friend and enemy by turns and whom I respect - in this way. David repudiates his past. I am slightly proud of the things I did and said when I was on the left, and wouldn't disown most of them. I am pretty sure that I won't change on this point, and don't feel any psychic urge to recantation. And, if it matters, I have felt more in tune with my past when helping the Iraqi opposition and the Kurdish rebels, as I have been doing for the past several years. There must be some former Trotskyists among Andrew's readership: I think they'll guess what I mean..
I'll accept compliments from the Right when they agree that Henry Kissinger belongs in the dock, and when they admit that this failure on their part is also sheltering Saddam Hussein from an indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and when they acknowledge that their trashing of the International Criminal Court is a betrayal of the whole ethos of "regime change". And after that, I have some other bones to pick with them...
TWO CHEERS FOR COLONIALISM:
Christopher Hitchens has written approvingly of Orwell's courage in fighting the great evils of the twentieth century, which included Stalinism, Hitlerism, and British colonialism. But aren't there some kind words to be said for colonialism? Didn't colonialism, in the end, liberate, educate, and "bring into the twentieth century" many of the countries it visited? In India, before colonialism, suttee was practiced. Came and went the British, and now there is parliamentary democracy. A halfway decent result, wouldn't you say, even while keeping in mind the moral cost? Or is my moral calculus way off?
The talk at NYU wasn't good, it was great.
Dear Two Cheers,
Marx was a great defender of British colonialism as a dynamic force that broke open feudal and despotic societies, but he didn't confuse this with the actual motives of the colonialists, which were greed and conquest and exploitation. (Even Edmund Burke conceded that much, in his great indictment of Warren Hastings.) Orwell and Kipling both served the empire in its moribund days, when "divide and rule" had negated the promise of civil society, and when the occupiers had become racist and proselytising, and when the "native" peoples had outgrown tutelage. They can both be read as exemplifying this great contradiction, which I agree is one of the most fertile subjects of literary and critical study. Orwell's essay on Kipling is one of the best points of entry into this argument, as is Salman Rushdie's essay on the special place of the English language in forming what is now a triumphant sub-continental literature. I even have a chapter on all this in my own book, available at fine stores everywhere...
CHILL OUT, HITCH:
Much of Hitchens' critique of the Orwell criticism originating from the Left and the Right seems to focus on how they take Orwell's words and ascribe to them meanings and interpretations the man himself never intended. But isn't that what all literary criticism is about? The exploration of symbols, text and meanings in a piece of work that may in fact go well beyond the author's intent?.
One of the prices of being a Great Man is to have your words and actions cast into the public domain. Once there, something akin to an intellectual scrum commences over your legacy and significance. While I share Hitchens' disagreement with wrong-headed Orwell interpretations, I don't share his evident belief that the actual process of interpretation is intellectually dishonest. That's the essence of political and literary debate - stigmatize it and you'd have legions of English grad students marching in the streets. Then again...
Terrific read, by the way.
Dear Chill Out,
I agree with you as far as I understand you, but I don't think you could fairly say the same of me. I don't even suggest that "the actual process of interpretation is intellectually dishonest". I do, however, find that there is something about Orwell which inflames the intellectually dishonest and draws them like flies to a dead cat. And I do feel the enjoyable urge to expose these creeps, for reasons both ancient and modern..
Your closing image is as nightmarish as it is improbable.
- 4:27 PM
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
YOUR TURN: Readers write in to Hitch.
Perhaps I have not read enough of "Why Orwell Matters" but so far haven't a clue as to why Orwell matters today. It is true that totalitarians still pose a danger, and that intellectuals continue to lend support. But what has Orwell written that provides a guide, either for dealing with totalitarians, or with the intellectuals who excuse them? Have any general principles been provided that apply to the war on terrorism? If so, I hope that someone will state them.
I hope you'll find that Orwell provides an example of fortitude in the face of megalomaniac dictators (most especially those who claim to represent noble causes), and also a strong hint about the tendency of certain intellectuals to capitulate in front of same. No, he doesn't say anything much about "asymmetric warfare", but all war is politics by other means, so one can help develop the fiber to call Al-Quaeda what it actually is (part crime family, part corrupt multinational corporation, part front-organisation for Saudi and Pakistani oligarchy, part fascist cult-group, part fundamentalist gang) instead of what the moral idiots say (Third World guerrilla group with misguided false consciousness). It's a start, wouldn't you say?
A few leftists and even liberals accuse George Bush of waging a "Perpetual War" of the sort George Orwell warned against in Nineteen Eighty Four. The implication is that if George Orwell were alive today, he would be an opponent of the war against Islamist fascism..
It seems to me that Orwell would respond with "My Country Right or Left," and remind people that pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. Also, since the United States is not a totalitarian police state, the so-called "perpetual war" can be called off by a vote at any time..
But, I would like to hear what Mr. Hitchens would say to people who oppose this war and recruit George Orwell to their side. Mr. Hitchens has studied Orwell more than I have, and probably has a better, or at least more articulate, answer.
Orwell actually invented the term "Cold War" in an essay that worried about two things simultaneously. He was early to express concern about the horrific possibility of thermonuclear war, but noticed that a thermonuclear peace might present the danger of a permanent (or "perpetual") military-industrial oligarchy, guaranteed by the threat of rival oligarchies who could become covert partners as much as ostensible rivals. I can remember a time when Saddam Hussein was an official ally, because he was such a ruthless guy....
Welcome to the fraternity of those who can worry about two things at once. Of course Orwell would have expressed contempt about a term like "collateral damage"; a pretty name for an ugly thing. But he would have seen straight though the characters who chant "No War On Iraq", because they identify Saddam Hussein with Iraq and elide the important difference (just as the recent 100 per cent turnout and vote in Iraq was intended to do).
P.S.: I might add that I wrote and said a good deal against John Ashcroft's "Patriot" Bill, because I feel it's my right to know (for example) the name of any prisoner held in these United States, and also to know the charge against him. That it's also his right ought to go without saying. My allies in this battle in Washington were, more often than not, libertarian or constitutional conservatives with no serious doubts about the justice of the war. And Ashcroft recently announced, after a series of combats with liberal and conservative groups, that he was dropping the idea of an "Official Secrets" law that would impose prior restraint on the press. So, without euphemising the Justice Department in the least, I think that those who think that "1984" is here are silly, because what would they have left to say if it really did arrive? (And those who claim this while carrying water for Milosevic and Saddam and Kim Jong Il are, I begin to think, beyond the reach of contempt.)
I believe your latest book demonstrates the opposite of its title. George Orwell was a brilliant critic. His writings will endure for generations, perhaps as long as history remembers Stalin. Nonetheless, I believe Orwell does not matter today after all, not politically in any event, especially in a day of information analysis, national transparency, and outcomes-based governance. He might be a fine example of intellectual bravery and concise thinking, but his historical extent is most probably limited to the chapter during which he lived..
Facts revealed by newly-opened Soviet archives document the horrible truths of the twentieth century better than Orwell's allegorical fiction could. In our computerized world of increasing scrutiny of government, bad policies will soon almost criticize themselves..
To determine Orwell's beliefs, we can draw no conclusions from his many political efforts, even those for which he bravely faced mortal injury. According to your account, he seems to have resigned from, fought against, or clashed with, more political organizations than exist in Europe today. What did he fight FOR? Whom did he fight WITH?.
We can draw no better conclusions from his written opinions. Orwell seems to have hated fascism, socialism, communism, capitalism, colonialism, nativism, feminism, overlords, underdogs, elite, proletariat, bourgeoisie, American, European and English alike, but defended them all (to varying degrees) just the same. He was apparently an all-around curmudgeon, a class of persons whose relevance unfortunately rarely survives their lives..
As far as his fiction, "Nineteen Eighty-four" and "Animal Farm" will always be considered remarkable works of critical insight, but how can one fault T.S. Eliot for asking if the theme of the latter was not whether what was needed was only more "public-spirited pigs"? If we agree "Animal Farm" was against Stalinism, what do we think it was actually for?
We have no essential disagreement. The test of any serious person is his or her ability to handle contradictions, and to recognise them in himself or herself as well as in others, and then to confront them honestly. Such people have a value beyond their time. Thus, Orwell was engaged in a permanent public argument with his own conservative instincts, which lends sinew to his prose. And, while he had insufficient technical ability to understand the idea of total electronic surveillance, his crude clockwork version of it is still vivid enough to strike a deep-going chord.
T.S. Eliot's explicit answer to your question was that "Animal Farm" was essentially "Trotskyite". His hidden reservation - which was part of the forgotten Tory surrender to Stalinism - was that it might offend the Russians. The novel is still banned in many Islamic states because of its stress on pigs. But I agree with you that public-spirited pigs are not such a bad idea, and quite a few such porcines do in fact feature in the novel, which is why I didn't mind when Alexander Cockburn - recent publisher and defender of Amiri Baraka's venomous Jew-baiting and paranoia - called me a "porker" in print just the other day.
In several interviews since the publication of "Why Orwell Matters," Christopher has said that it puzzles him that "Animal Farm" has no Lenin character. Maybe the answer is right under our noses. In almost every source available, Napoleon is considered a characterization of Stalin. What if, however, Orwell meant Napoleon as a composite of both Lenin and Stalin - Orwell's way of showing his ambivalence towards undemocratic elements within the Bolshevik Revolution from the beginning? .
To begin, if Napoleon is meant to represent just Stalin, the fit is far from perfect. Napoleon and Snowball work together at the beginning of the revolution to write the tenets of Animalism and form the vanguard of pigs, a relationship much more emblematic of Trotsky and Lenin. Orwell read Trotsky (and Serge), and I assume that despite the Soviet rewrite, by the 1940's would have known that during the October Revolution, Stalin was more a second tier organizer and not an intellectual driving force (though Deutscher felt that Trotsky underestimated Stalin's role).
In addition, here's a passage I found in Peter Davison's "George Orwell," from a letter written to Dwight Macdonald:
"But I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can lead only to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning point of the story was suppose to be when the pigs kept the milk and the apples for themselves (Kronstadt). If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been alright." (Davison p. 127)Kronstadt was, of course, in 1921 when Lenin was still at the helm - a popular revolt put down by Trotsky. If, as Orwell stated, the problems begin when the revolution rejects democratic principles, as both Lenin and Trotsky did in the name of "war communism," and Kronstadt was the "turning point", then it seems Napoleon would have to begin with Lenin, and end with Stalin.
I'm sure that this idea has popped up somewhere in the literature, but I haven't been able to find it. (I don't have access to Davison's 20 vol. set, which I'm sure would contain evidence to either support or disprove this notion.) I've been able to find only one reference where Orwell directly connected Stalin to Napoleon (CEJL III 358-359). Orwell wrote so little about the allegorical nature of his characters, does this alone prove that Stalin was the sole inspiration for Napoleon? I agree with Christopher that on some levels both Lenin and Trotsky were "great" men when put into their own historical context. Still, sticking to Orwell's example of following honesty and logic to their full conclusion, it's hard not to see Lenin in the early Napoleon - who wasn't all bad in the beginning, and certainly better than farmer Jones. In any case, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Dear Lenin (I never thought I would end up addressing an email in this manner...)
Nice to meet a fellow buff. Orwell more than once said that he doubted things in the USSR would have been much better if Trotsky had won over Stalin, but he did have a slight sympathy with the Left Opposition and a close friendship with some of its intellectual diaspora, and would never have thought of the accusation "Trotskyist" as a damning one. He had, I think, the same ambivalence about Lenin that you indicate..
The case is clearer, though not by much, when you notice that "1984" has an obvious Stalin (the thick-mustached "Big Brother") and an even more self-evident Trotsky ("Emmanuel Goldstein") but no Lenin. Once again - and I believe I am the first to point this out - this can't be dictated by the needs of allegory. Stalin was always careful to present himself as the inheritor of Leninism - the precise ground of his quarrel with Trotsky - and to have their portraits displayed together. Then remember the vanished conspirators whose photograph Winston Smith holds in his hand for a fraction of a second. Aaron, Jones and Rutherford are I think a composite of the Moscow Trial defendants and of Erlich and Alter, the Polish Socialist leaders liquidated by Stalin during the war. Any reader in the 1940s, or any reader of the left press at any rate, would have had to conclude that Orwell's models were the Marxist and anti-Stalinist militants of the preceding decade. And many of these - such as Andres Nin of the POUM in Catalonia - went to their deaths at Stalin's hands before they could make up their minds about Lenin, either.
- 6:24 PM
Your question is posed in such a friendly way that I think this will hardly qualify as a "round" - but perhaps later combatants will be tougher on me.
The defamation of Orwell by the Left or on the Left is fairly easy to track. First comes the contemporary loathing, expressed by those who feel that he is giving "ammunition to the enemy" or "letting down the side" in the battle between Communism and Fascism. (This accusation, it's interesting to notice, depends on what he says, about Spain for example, being true!)
Very well, one can see that people hated Hitler enough to close their eyes to some if not all of the realities of Stalinism. But then comes the Hitler-Stalin pact. At this point the orthodox Left loses even its moral credibility, having already made a willing sacrifice of its commitment to objectivity. They hate Orwell because he reminds them of their evasions and excuses. A lot of anti-Orwellism, to this day, is rooted in a revulsion from his supposed moralistic superiority, which for the most part resulted simply from a steady attitude to the obvious. (I have to say, here, that Noam Chomsky has always employed the term "Orwellian" in this context, and thus used the term properly.)
Then, with Stalin hastily back in the anti-Nazi camp - through no fault or virtue of his own, be it said - comes the period when it's no longer revolutionary to be a Communist, because the USSR is an official "ally". Orwell chooses this precise moment to publish Animal Farm - or to try to publish it, since even TS Eliot turns it down. Once again, he is a member of the awkward squad whose very existence mocks the left conformists (and does so, I might add, in their own language of socialism and brotherhood).
With the writing of "1984" the timing is once again appalling, because the post-war Stalin-Churchill-Truman alliance has fallen apart and any mention of the Stalinisation of Eastern Europe is by definition "heating up the Cold War" (a phrase Orwell actually coined while writing an attack on nuclearism).
All the herd-instincts of the Left are thus discredited, from within, by a man who knows where the bodies are buried. No wonder that he is not loved.
I make the transition to your question about the Right in the following way. Orwell learned, at Eton and in the colonial police, that the worst offense was to "let down the side", or to be indiscreet in front of the servants or the natives, or to manifest any form of disloyalty. Thus, he was inured to the spurious appeals of group-think while still a Tory. Obviously, he wasn't going to listen, later on, to the same public-school or regimental trash when it was uttered in party-line form by some Communist hack. I don't think that this observation has been made before.
But he did leave quite a bit of himself behind in the Tory England he had deserted, and obviously it shows. He preferred agriculture to industry, the country to the town, poetry that rhymed to poetry that didn't ... And yes, he had a feeling for patriotism that was in inverse proportion to his suspicion of chauvinism or xenophobia. One reads again the "intellectuals" who thought there was nothing to choose between British India and Nazified Poland, and one rubs the eyes. But here they are again, prettily and cleverly behaving as if their thoughts on "equivalence" were brave or original, and it seems almost a waste of Orwell to expend any gunpowder in arguing with them.
If I've overlooked anything in your opening invitation I am sure that it will be pointed out to me. Meanwhile, thanks for asking....
- 8:49 AM
Monday, October 28, 2002
ORWELL: ROUND ONE:
Great to see you last Thursday night. Any particular impressions you took from the NYU conversation? You seemed prepared, to coin a phrase, for the worst, but you found a very receptive crowd, I thought. Surprised?
I wanted to start by asking you about Orwell and the Left. To be honest, the freshest stuff in your book to me was the amazing recitation of the left's hostility to Orwell. I found the Raymond Williams stuff shocking. I guess I'm not versed in the intricacies of internecine Leftist bickering. So let me ask: Why exactly do you think Orwell - a champion of the working class, of democratic socialism, etc etc - was so ostracized by the Left for so long? I was struck last Thursday by the remaining visceral suspicion of Orwell from Vivian Gornick. Is it the same old fellow-travelling, Soviet-appeasing tendency on the left? Or what precisely?
Secondly, I wanted to challenge you on Orwell and the right. You're absolutely correct, of course, that Orwell loathed and suspected Tories. But there's clearly a Burkean strain in him, is there not? The whole concept in "The Lion and the Unicorn" of a national essence enduring even though the institutional and political apparatus might change entirely surely owes something to a romantic Toryism that surfaces now and again in Orwell's work. I'm reminded of "Coming Up For Air" in particular, where Orwell conjures a nostalgia reminiscent of Betjeman, and where his environmentalism (of a very Tory sort) comes to the fore. Remember the comment about preferring trees to men? Striking, no?
Over to you,
- 2:26 PM
Monday, October 07, 2002
WHY ORWELL MATTERS
by Christopher Hitchens
purchase at amazon.com [USA]
purchase at amazon.ca [Canada]
purchase at amazon.co.uk [Europe]
- 2:33 PM
Friday, October 04, 2002
MICHAEL LEDEEN REPLIES:
Dear Glib & Presumptuous,
Needless to say, I'm sorry you found my book unconvincing and even offensive. I'll try harder in the future. However, when you've had a beer and settled in for a thoughtful evening, ponder this: you love Bernard Lewis, and Bernard Lewis loves this book. So what's up with that?
Dear In Pigskins,
Well, maybe the Canadian woman was happy to see Fahd move, without worrying about his mental function, or maybe she is only pretending to be his therapist, or maybe I'm wrong. Remember that this is one of the few books you've ever read in which the author says up front that he's sure there are mistakes in it, given the nature of the subject. On the other hand, Fahd is certainly gone from the political scene, and one must wonder how that can be if his health is ok, mustn't one?
Yes, I agree that Saudi Arabia is complicated, but I was at pains to suggest that it might not be intractable. And so I said that the optimists believe the Saudis will become reasonable once they see their fellow tyrants falling in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran. And the optimists may be right. The pessimists believe that the Kingdom is in the hands of true believers, and they won't change their behavior this side of defenestration. I don't take a position, although I do agree with Rich Lowry that there are some very talented and gainfully unemployed Hashemites in the neighborhood...and I point out that the oil producing regions of the Kingdom are Shi'ite, not Wahhabi, and would welcome liberation from the Saud dynasty.
Yeah, you bet Reagan wimped out in Lebanon after the Iranian-backed Hizbollah slaughtered our Marines and diplomats. We certainly should have gone after Hizbollah (although we did not know at the time, as we do today, that Hizbollah was an Iranian creation--chalk up another intelligence failure for the CIA), and those of us working on counterterrorism in the White House were terribly disappointed that Reagan settled for a symbolic response rather than a real one.
Glad you noticed the suggestive footnote. Who knows?
Dear Path Dependency,
Thanks for your kind words, much appreciated. On the very important question of how much history weighs on the shoulders of the living, I have always found Putnam's writings on Italy terribly unconvincing, even though I find the general theory attractive (I mean, I'm an historian, after all, and we historians love it when the so-called Political Scientists tell everyone that history counts for a lot).
On the other hand, there are revolutions, and change is history's leitmotif. Every democracy on earth today used to be a tyranny, until the people threw out the tyrants and created democracy. The Greeks and Romans believed in a kind of political cycle, in which tyranny, oligarchy, anarchy and democracy succeeded each other in an endless circle. If that's right, then people like Putnam are out of business, at least in this particular enterprise, because it all depends on when you decide to start the "history."
In any case, I don't believe democracy is like Quantum Mechanics; nowadays you can get there with good leadership and sufficient power to install the system for a generation or two so that the people learn the habits of mind of free men and women. In the Middle East today, the Iranians know that they want to be free and to determine their own destiny, and maybe as you say that's a function of their youth, but it's also the result of their righteous hatred of their thuggish leaders. And Iran has a tradition of civil society, a strong sense of national identity, and enough good examples in the recent past (especially Reza Shah in the early 20th century) that we can be quite optimistic about their chances to create a thriving, open country once the wretched mullahs are gone.
Lebanon was a great country until it was wrecked by the PLO, and then occupied by Syria. The Lebanese may well be able to recreate its image as a Middle Eastern Switzerland. No reason to dread Lebanon's future.
Iraq and Syria will be more difficult, although I take heart from the brave behavior of the Iraqis whenever they've had the chance to strike at Saddam. And recent news reports from Syria talk about mass demonstrations in Damascus against the regime there.
Again, I don't think that Arab or Muslim DNA lacks a freedom or democracy chromosome.
Dear Iraq First,
I know it's hard to hold firmly to this idea, given the incredible noise of the current furor over All Iraq All The Time, but this is regional. The three countries--Iran, Iraq and Syria--are bundled. So I don't think your scenario--Iran becomes free, hence there's a vacuum, hence Saddam becomes more powerful--is realistic. When Iran becomes free, the Iraqis will want to be free, hence Saddam is weakened and our task there is easier. But if we "do" Iraq first and the mullahs are still in power in Tehran, they will be able to do some nasty things to us before they fall. And that, I think, would be a black mark against our strategic planners.
I hope that the Iranians act soon, so we won't have to test my theory on what happens if you do Iraq first.
Dear No Japan,
I'm an ignoramus on Japan, all I know is what I read in biographies of McArthur, but it doesn't seem to me that we had an easy time teaching the Japanese to think like free men and women. In fact, I remain amazed that the Japanese women remain so, uh, docile? Downtrodden? Meek? As for Germany, a "country" that had been unified less than a century before Hitler, it may surprise you to learn that our government's best thinkers--including the legendary George F. Kennan--were convinced that there were no democrats in the whole place to whom the destiny of the country could be entrusted. So Kennan recommended that we keep the Nazi bureaucracy in place. So while we can calmly look back today and say "it was a piece of cake," it sure didn't look that way at the time. Maybe people will look back on today's Middle East and wonder why it took us so long to see the real potential of the place for a vibrant democracy.
I take your point on Turkey. I, too, worry a lot about Islam. There is clearly something in there that has stunted the growth of many Islamic countries and societies. Islam needs a Reformation, and maybe the war will stimulate one.
It's too much to say that none of us has a clue about the post-war Iraqi government. We've got a government in exile, all ready to go. At most we can say that nobody really knows if Ahmad Chalabi and his cohorts are up to the challenge. I'm an optimist, I know him well, I'm impressed with his nerve and his smarts, and I'm very impressed with his leadership abilities. Anyone who could keep that unlikely and fractious coalition together for ten years despite constant betrayals from Foggy Bottom is a tough guy and a charismatic leader.
Dear All At Once,
You're my guy! We Machiavellians have to hang together.
Dear Stopping the EU,
If I knew how to stop the EU, I'd be the Holy Roman Emperor.
Dear Stopping Pakistan,
Good points and good questions, all of them. I am not a Pakistan expert, it's hard enough dealing with my four bad guys. But I would like to underline your point about the world being dangerous so long as countries like Pakistan have nuclear weapons and fanatics running around. It may well be that we're going to have to fight would-be nuclear terrorists for a long time, or it may turn out that this war will be such a dramatic turning point that radical Islam is discredited and countries like Pakistan decide to de-nuclearize (although that would require India to do the same). South Africa, as you rightly say, gave up its nuclear weapons, and if memory serves me right Brazil stopped its program, too, once it became democratic and did well in the World Cup...but it's a very dangerous world even without nuclear terrorism. Old fashioned dynamite and its modern child Semtex can kill a hell of a lot of people.
Dear Dear Iraq Now,
Thanks for your fine letter, really good. I'm happy to be corrected, I did reach you, I'm pleased and grateful.
Here's what I'm worried about, specifically, if we go after Saddam before the mullahs are brought down: Attacks against American targets in Iraq and Afghanistan by Iranian Revolutionary Guard units as well as by Hizbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad; Iranian missile attacks against American ships in the Gulf with cruise missiles and against American ground forces and bases with their new intermediate-range ballistic missiles; and a desperate, all-out assault on Israel via the terrorist groups, quite possibly using chemical and biological poisons and toxins.
These are not purely hypothetical scenarios, they correspond to actions on the ground (such as shifting hundreds of cruise missiles down to Bandar Abbas and other places) and discussions held in Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Riad, Mecca and Medina in recent months.
On your question about the effect of victory in Iraq on our broader agenda, there is no doubt--none at all--that it would help enormously, in all the ways you've laid out so well.
And last of all, while the fall of Iran would isolate Iraq--in the sense that it would then be exposed to contagion from free Iran as well as American political and military power--the fall of Saddam would similarly isolate Iran. I cannot imagine that the Iranian people would tolerate tyranny in Tehran when there was freedom in Baghdad. And in like manner I would expect the Iraqis to rise up against Saddam--especially if we showed powerful support--if the mullahcracy was blessedly destroyed.
And I think that does it. Andrew?
- 4:06 PM
Tuesday, October 01, 2002
THE DEBATE CONTINUES - YOUR TURN:
I was disappointed in the book. I found the treatment of the subject matter glib and the presentation of the evidence presumptuous ("Take it from me, my sources and I know what we are talking about"). I also didn't feel that the tone of the discussion was appropriately serious (see more of that in Ledeen's short NRO piece this morning). I think it is likely to have a negative effect on all but the true believers.
Too bad. No matter what our European friends might think, Americans are conditioned to view a war that is not a direct response to a hostile act as unjust. This new war requires a profound departure from our traditional understanding of casus bellum. Bush and Blair realize this; although the media and pols cry out for it, neither man has attempted to offer a sinking of the Maine to justify the attack. Assuming war is nevertheless necessary - and I am persuaded that it is, though not by Ledeen's book - we need good, reliable commentary to support the case for preemptive action. Although presumably not so intended, Prof. Lewis's "What Went Wrong" serves that purpose well. Ledeen's book does not.
I have enjoyed reading this little book, though I found it depressing. A couple of questions/observations.
King Fahd: Ledeen claims that Fahd suffers from a "debilitating disease" and "suffered a stroke," implying that he's incapacitated. Newspapers routinely describe him as "ailing". I was travelling through Turkey last spring and during part of my tour I shared a bus with a young Canadian woman who was King Fahd's personal physical therapist. She regaled us with fascinating stories about life with him, but she also says, "He's not sick. He's fine. He's just old. He does his exercises with me every morning." And she would know.
On a related point, it seems pretty clear that Ledeen sees Saudi Arabia as the most complicated and intractable country in the Middle East. Have I stated his position fairly? Any new thoughts on how to effect pro-Western pro-democratic change aside from Rich Lowry's extreme idea of seizing the oil fields and giving the Two Cities to the Hashemites?
On Beirut: Ledeen worked in the Reagan administration. Can he give us more insight into the thinking behind Reagan's withdrawing the Marines after the attack? In hindsight, that and Carter's feckless response to the Iran hostage crisis seemed to have started a lot of our troubles. Why didn't we go in with guns blazing? In fact, given the links to Iran, it seemed like a good pretext to go after Iran militarily. It seems that Reagan here is as guilty, if not more so, as Clinton of a spineless foreign policy. Or am I unfairly using too much hindsight?
My nominee for the most interesting passage in the book is this little nugget from a footnote:
"There may be a way to deter suicide terrorists, but it is so politically incorrect it is hard to imagine its adoption. The British in India faced a Muslim insurrection, and they responded by defiling the bodies of dead terrorists: The cadavers were buried in pigskin shrouds, which the Muslims believed barred them from paradise. The insurrection ended in short order. A group of Israelis buried a Palestinian terrorist in pigskin in February 2002, but it does not seem to have caught on, so its current efficacy can't be evaluated." (pp.250-251.)
I hope you can forward this question to Michael Ledeen (wonderful book, by the way; I'm grateful you chose it. I may not have come across it otherwise. While I'm on the subject book selections, My Dog Tulip, which I discovered a few months before you chose it for your book club, is amazing.)
I, too, have a question about the issue of establishing democratic governments in countries like Iraq and Iran, which stems from what I know of Robert Putnam's book Making Democracy Work. As I understand it (I haven't read the book!), Putnam set out to discover why democracy worked well in northern Italy, but not well in Southern Italy. His answer was "path dependency," meaning that the way you start out strongly affects the way you end up ... 1000 years later you can see the influence of feudal government in southern Italy versus a guild system of society in northern Italy ...
I'm wondering whether Mr. Ledeen has thoughts about this . . .. Does the history of these countries suggest that democracy would or could make sense for them? Does the incredible youth of their populations imply that even if nothing in their history points to being able to make a go of democracy the flexibility of youth can or will overrule history?
As a follow-up on the prioritization of Iran over Iraq: were we successful in deposing the mullahs in Iran without dealing with Saddam, there would be a power vacuum in the region that Saddam would undoubtedly fill. He would become the primary patron of the terrorists. With the dissolution of the Iranian Islamofacist state, the terrorists and counterrevolutionaries would undoubtedly flock to him, making him a counterpoise to the hoped for liberation movement in the Arab world.
There are no similarities between post WWII Germany and Japan to the Mid-East. Germany had experience with parliamentary democracy, had laws from that time, and understood what was happening. Japan also had pre-war democratic forms, a Diet and elections.
It was relatively easy to impose a democracy on both of them. And both had experience with a form of capitalism and labor unions. Not so with any Muslim country, which by nature wants a theocracy. Even in Turkey, when a Muslim became the leader with 22% of the vote back in the 80's, the first things he did were divert money to radical mosques, set up a relationship with then terrorist Libya, and try to create a violent Muslim state in the south of Turkey. He also closed down the university because he didn't like the headwear being worn by women. All this with 22% of the vote in a country that has had democratic forms since the 30's.
None of us has a clue about what kind of government will emerge in Iraq.
ALL AT ONCE:
Mr. Ledeen makes it clear that a host of so-called experts have been working with a set of dodgy assumptions for a very long time. Fouad Ajami's line about Western elites' comfort with Saddam - "we wear pants and he wears pants" - is an excellent reminder that we have to question our instincts, including the assumption that we're all people just the same. That's fine, except when one of them really wants to kill another one unbeknownst to him.
I enjoyed the quotation from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. about Afghanistan. It was like reading an old Anthony Lewis column. That unfortunate man turned out to be wrong about almost everything. The NYT prefers that in a columnist.
Why invade Iraq first? My favorite answer is "because it would be fun", a corollary of "because we can". The greatest damage of this war, as in the case of the war 10 years ago, results from failure to observe Machiavelli rule #3: "If we have to do unpleasant things, we have to do them all at once." The months of elevated oil prices are the largest cost we might bear. They may be minimized by the earliest possible commencement of action.
STOPPING THE EU:
Does Michael Leeden have any suggestions for how Israel can stop the EU from funding Palestinian terror? Will it only be through the actions of the U.S., or are there things that Israel can do?
Major thanks to Sullivan and Ledeen for creating such an informative, intelligent forum.
1. While Iraq's interest in obtaining nuclear weaponry gets lots of press, very little solid information is available on the Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran. Internet scuttlebutt suggests that there's been another delay, and that the new schedule calls for loading nuclear fuel in December 2003 and beginning operations in June 2004 (though that information may be inaccurate or fabricated). Anyway, if Mr. Ledeen's central theme calls for a popular revolt in Iran, how much does he think it matters whether or not the revolution comes before the completion of the Bushehr plant?
2. More scuttlebutt suggests that Pakistan is selling nuclear expertise to Saudi Arabia, and that Libya has made some headway in developing nuclear weapons technology with aid possibly coming from Pakistan, Iraq, North Korea and/or Saudi Arabia. Has the United States exercised sufficient leverage with Pakistan in reigning in their role in spreading nuclear secrets? If not, why not?
3. Considering that the Pakistani population and its military command contain some of the most radical Muslim zealots on earth, can the world ever be safe from a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons as long as the nation of Pakistan has them?
4. Despite a number of impressive agreements signed, the global community has had limited success to date in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons technology (South Africa being the only real success story). Looking beyond specific "axis of evil" countries such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea, is there anything truly effective that can be done to end the spread of nuclear weapons technology?
"DEAR IRAQ NOW" REPLIES
I disagree -- I have been fully impressed with your theme of the importance of Iran. We disagree only in the conclusions we draw from those themes. Perhaps this is partly the result of my imprecise statement that we let Iran be, which I should have stipulated was meant in a military context only.
I agree that it's very important that we be seen as actively engaged advocates of the next Iranian revolution. I wholly support your position that we must send money, communications gear and good counsel, and that we must step up Farsi-language radio broadcasting. Moreover, those policies must be implemented immediately. They must not wait for victory in Iraq.
But for me, the question of why Iraq now is one of timing and momentum. An overt assault on Iraq is a discrete, defined action that will deliver identifiable results in the near term. Support for an Iranian revolution will be, by its nature, covert; the pay-back for our engagement will be imprecise and will occur at some unknown point in the future. How long will we wait for the Iranian theocracy to collapse? One year? Five years? Not until the Pentagon and State Department are again run by Clinton proteges? Is it wise to do nothing in Iraq while we wait? Do you not agree that the threat from Iraq will only grow the longer we wait?
You may respond to this line of reasoning with a charge of imprudent impatience. To which I would ask, what are the risks of making regime change in Iraq our first priority, even if it is not our top priority?
I ask the following questions in earnest; these are not rhetorical questions. I'm open to arguments that focusing on Iraq now is not in our long-term interest.
- Would regime change in Iraq hurt or help our broader agenda, including our desire for revolution in Iran?
- You say Iran would "go for our throats." Can you be more specific about the potential threats you see?
- You say bringing down the mullahcracy will isolate Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, your book demonstrates that all terror masters work in concert. It seems to follow that regime change in Iraq will isolate Iran and Syria. Do you not agree? Or is it a matter of degree and effect?
- You extol the political power of a U.S.-supported revolution in Iran, and the implications it would have on the Islamist movement at large. I agree. Do you think that regime change in Iraq would have similar, albeit less profound, political ramifications for the
ideology of Muslim fanaticism?
- 9:30 PM
Sunday, September 29, 2002
THE DEBATE CONTINUES - LEDEEN ANSWERS BACK
Dear "Iraq Now,"
I see I have failed to impress upon you one of my central themes, so let's try again. We do not have to invade Iran, while we probably have to do some real fighting in Iraq. Different strategies are required for different enemies, although in both cases our most devastating weapon is the suffering people, who hate the regime. Our most lethal weapon is political, not military. I am talking revolution, not invasion.
One of the real obstacles to clear thinking--that is, things preventing everyone from agreeing with me--is that we are so obsessed with Iraq and Iraq alone, and the discussion about how to "knock off" Iraq is so obsessively military, that most folks don't seem to be able to grasp the enormous power of our political weapon.
We need not send armed forces to Iran, we need to send money, communications gear, and good counsel, and we need to step up our Farsi-language radio broadcasting (which is now mostly "pop" music, with less and less politics, precisely the opposite of what we should be doing).
Extremist Islam has been rejected by the Iranians, and everybody there knows it. The question is whether or not we're going to help the Iranians get rid of the clerical regime. According to the newspapers in Tehran--and by now only pro-regime newspapers are permitted to publish--the Interior Ministry took a poll and found something like 90% of the people hate the regime. Paradoxically, the most courageous and outspoken opponents of the regime include some of the leading Ayatollahs. They fear that when the regime falls--and virtually all Iranians believe it is a question of "when," not "if"--Shi'ite Islam itself may be swept away in the wreckage. They are taking great pains to denounce the regime and many of its practices, including suicide terrorism (rejected in a Fatwah by the Ayatollah Montazeri, who is under house arrest, and the Ayatollah Taheri, who recently resigned as top religious leader in Isfahan, a city famed for giving birth to insurrections).
But it is one thing to be unpopular, quite another thing to be deposed; it is terribly important that the regime in Tehran be brought down. And I think it is very important that we be seen to have been the key supporters of the next Iranian revolution. Important for our role in the region, important for the Iranians to know that we stood with them in their hour of need, important for our own good conscience. I am appalled and disgusted at the cowardice and moral shortsightedness of many of our leaders--including Secretary of State Powell--who act as if the cause of Iranian freedom were a kind of third rail. Incredibly, after three brave statements from the president on Iran, in which Bush embraced the cause of the Iranian people, there are still people in the State Department who are looking for ways to make common cause with the regime.
We should support the Iranian people, and I'd argue this way even without Iran's central role as Great Mother of International Terrorism. Her terrorist lead role gives the matter greater urgency.
Which brings us back to who's on first? If we do Iraq first--and this does entail the use of at least some military forces, who will have to remain in Iraq for some time, maybe a considerable period of time--the Iranian regime will go for our throats, and they are fabulous killers. But if we first support the Iranian people, and they bring down the mullahcracy in Tehran, Iraq and Syria will be isolated, our chances to have huge Iraqi and Syrian popular support will increase, and, best of all, we will have demonstrated the abject failure of radical Islam. It wrecks the country, and earns the hatred of the people, who then turn to us for help. So it lays the groundwork for the later pressure on the Saudis.
Dear "Three Imperatives,"
Thanks for underlining the urgency of moving quickly; I quite agree that if any of the terror masters proved to possess a nuclear device, the whole calculus would change dramatically. I imagine you would agree with me that we've already waited too long.
Again, I'm not talking about invading Iran, I'm talking revolution. We're a revolutionary country, we take to it naturally. You might have noticed that the so-called "left" is utterly silent on this matter. If there were a "left" worthy of its tradition, it would be demanding support for the freedom-loving Iranian people. But no; once again they show their true reactionary colors by attacking "the war." Comrade Lenin is no doubt spitting in his grave.
Yes, I endorse your third imperative. We have to make our victory resonate, and we must recognize that if we now permit Saddam to survive yet again, we will truly prove that we are paper tiger cubs.
Dear "Because We Can,"
I haven't convinced you yet, let me try again (and please remember that the Iran scenario is political, not military). I think we have great leverage over, and great popular support in Iraq, Iran and Syria, but we have the most popular influence in Iran. I know this is a new thought; the Iran story is the most under-reported major event since Pol Pot's genocide in Cambodia, and some day some one will ask the captains of the journalist industry why they didn't see it and didn't report it. But I've been writing about it for more than a year, and I promise you I've got it right--if I were wrong I'd have heard about it from somebody on the N.Y. Times or the Washington Post or one of the networks. Furthermore, those few people who follow Iran closely--Bernard Lewis, for example--agree with my analysis.
Iranians go into the streets in solidarity with us on September 11th, 2001 AND 2002, at risk of life and limb. So I think that "Because We Can" applies more accurately to Iran than to Iraq.
By the way, for those of you who quite rightly raised the "legalistic" question and pointed out that we have legalistic fig leaves to cover an invasion of Iraq, don't forget that the case is even stronger than you believe: we are still technically at war with Iraq, and since they violated the ceasefire, we are entitled to resume full-scale operations.
Dear "Shaky, Shakier,"
Thanks for your kind words, much appreciated. But I don't think that we know that Iraq is closer to WMD than Iran is. I rather suspect that Iran is closer to nuclear capacity. The Iranian regime has called for a nuclear test by the end of the year, we know they have both heavy and light water programs, and even our newspapers have been full of stories about the regime's failure to return to Russia the nuclear "waste" that their agreement requires. And I have recently reported that, a few
months back, Palestinian terrorists were given substantial quantities of an unknown substance for use against Israel. Is this the poison that was scheduled for use in Tel Aviv restaurants, and Israeli hospitals, recently announced by Israeli authorities?
Dear "A Long and Glorious Op Ed,"
Thanks, I love you too.
Dear "The Long War,"
You better believe I would welcome American schools using "The War Against the Terror Masters" as a text! Yes, yes, yes the national debate should put recent events in historical context. I mean, that's one of the main points of my book. I'm an historian after all, what am I doing here anyway? I'm most grateful that you appreciate it, there's hope.
I love that word, don't you? And you are thinking strategerically and well. My argument to do Iran first is tactical, since I believe this is a regional war and we will have to deal with all the terror masters more or less at the same time, and it's harder for the others to move in Iran--where we will have only a symbolic presence--than in Iraq, where we will have our fighters. What will Saddam do, send his armies to defend the mullahs in Tehran against the rage of the Iranian nation? I don't think so. But if the mullahs are still in power and we go into Iraq, then they can act, just as they are today in Afghanistan.
You've asked a very difficult question, maybe the most difficult. How can we use the examples of Germany and Japan for such places as Iran and Iraq, especially in light of the problems in Afghanistan today? My answer is, because we have good reason to think that the people in places like Iran and Iraq want to be free, are looking to us for their salvation, and that, given proper seriousness from us, they are quite capable of creating quite respectable modern civil societies. Again, the Iranian case is the easiest; they've got a long national history, a strong and dynamic culture (you might enjoy reading some of the brilliant essays in The New Republic by Azar Nafisi over the past several years), and a manifest desire for democracy. I will be surprised if they aren't the Poland of the Middle East--the one clear, unambiguous success story in all this.
Along with Iran, I have little doubt that Lebanon will also work out well. Once the Syrian tyranny is destroyed, the Lebanese will try again, and they have the history, the talent, and the skills to pull it off.
Iraq is more difficult, no question about it. But here, as in the thinking about so many Muslim Arab countries, there is a tendency to believe that they're just not up to it, that they just don't get it, etc., as if it were congenital. And yet, and yet, in a more peaceful and less extremist Middle East Tunisia and Morocco would continue to develop in a quite civilized and rational way, and who knows how the Palestinians will act if they had a free choice, and were out from under Arafat's tyranny? So I don't believe that Muslim Arabs can't freely govern themselves (I'm more pessimistic about Africa, but that's another story).
There is a very good Iraqi Government in Exile, the Iraqi National Congress et. al., with a very good leader, Ahmad Chalabi. He has held this leaky ship together for more than a decade, despite repeated betrayals by the United States--Bush the Elder, Clinton, and the State Department always. I believe he'll be, at a minimum, an excellent leader of the transition period (just as I expect Reza Pahlavi will be an excellent leader of the Iranian transition period). If we stay the course it could succeed. Yes, it could fail, remember I'm with Machiavelli: "man is more inclined to do evil than to do good." But that is the premise on which Machiavelli builds his case for strong leadership: only great leaders can bring the miserable human animal to glory.
The worst straw in the wind, as you have noted, is our miserable performance in Afghanistan. We sold out the old shah to the Iranians, and permitted the place to be called an "Islamic Republic." Two big mistakes, followed by the third: we only provide security to Kabul, when we should knock heads and force the Afghans to work together, in return for our security guarantees. I think the civilized world should be shamed into joining in such projects. Maybe even the U.N.
Nah, sorry, I get carried away...not the U.N.
Well done, but I wouldn't call those events "corollaries," as if they were inevitable. I would call them "failures of will on our part." As you will recall, I hope, the day after we proclaimed the end of our military campaign in Gulf War I, I called it "Desert Shame," because we failed to finish the job. And then, instead of reshaping the Middle East--as we could and should have--we wimped out, permitted the Syrians to gobble up Lebanon en toto, and then behaved idiotically in the "process" that eventually produced Oslo with its attendant disasters. However, in that case, the major blame goes to the Israelis, above all to the dangerous dreamer Shimon Peres, and secondarily to Yitzhak Rabin. It's very hard to be to the right of the Israeli Government in a negotiation.
And I raise my glass to you, dear "Payback," for pronouncing the "C" word, China. Yes, China could take advantage and try to produce a final solution to the Taiwan problem. Whatever she does, China is our major foreign policy problem. The terrorists are not going to destroy America; China might, one day. Even soon.
Dear "Impossible Dream,"
I hope you'll read "The War Against the Terror Masters," maybe it will cheer you up a bit. Yes, I know it's a lot to ask, but freedom is always difficult, and we need to remember that every democracy was once a tyranny. Even the thirteen colonies once had an absolute monarch. And the one true constant in human history is change. We are a busy, dissatisfied and creative human race, and we are always tinkering and challenging and inventing. As you see, I am an American enthusiast. I think we can do amazing things. I agree with Reagan that we are too great to settle for small dreams. We need big challenges before we get going. The problem is not to win this war, but to keep up our revolutionary activity afterwards.
That's what I said at the end of the Cold War, in a little book called "Freedom Betrayed." I said then that we had an obligation to de-Communize the Soviet Empire, that we should have declared victory and then insisted that the archives of the Soviet Union--and our own--be opened, so that the peoples of the Empire could learn their real history, and then act accordingly. I think we blew it. I do not agree with you that there was little we could have done.
I may be wrong, but I do have Vladimir Bukovsky and Natan Sharansky on my side, and they're a hell of a lot smarter than either of us.
And as for that bet, you're on. I'll bet you that we get a good, functioning democracy in Iran at a minimum. And if we play our cards well, we should get a decent Iraq, moving toward democracy, and maybe even a decent Palestine, at peace with its neighbors, and committed to being a normal little country, and quite a good Lebanon. Maybe Beirut can regain its nickname, the Paris of the Middle East. And without the more unpleasant aspects of French civilization...
That's my second sermon. Looking forward to the next go-round.
- 9:35 PM
Friday, September 27, 2002
THE DEBATE CONTINUES - YOUR COMMENTS
I think there are several reasons why Iraq is the proper starting point for the proactive, preemptive phase of the war on the terror masters.
First, the obvious reasons:
1) In legalese, Bush has an "actionable" case against Iraq. The UN resolutions serve as a benchmark against which to judge Saddam. He flouted the resolutions, and thus provided the basis in international relations for a military response. No such basis exists for Iran, making coalition-building - or at least a compelling response to the inevitable charges of imperialism and military adventurism - more difficult.
2) Our experience in the Persian Gulf War provides us with valuable insight into the Iraqi battlefield and the potential societal, military and geographic challenges we might face. No doubt we will face unforeseen challenges, but the number of those unforeseen challenges is likely to be lower in Iraq than Iran.
3) In terms of geopolitics, establishing a pro-Western nascent democracy in Iraq will provide a base for future operations -- a base that shares borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Regime change in Iraq, which has in the past shown a willingness to target the international oil market, could also have the effect of stabilizing oil prices.
But the most critical reason to let Iran be, at least for now, [could be] the benefit of allowing the Iranian government to collapse from the weight of its own hubris.
As Ledeen says, "we defeated the Soviet Empire both militarily and ideologically" (pg. 149), and "all losers are rejected by their former and would-be followers, and those who claim Divine authority, rejected even faster" (page 151).
We can defeat any of these countries militarily, but that may not break their spirit. If, as Ledeen writes, Islamists believe the misfortunes of the Arab world are Allah's punishment for straying from the path of true believers, then military defeat at the hands of the West can be "spun" as further evidence of Allah's displeasure, and an argument for intensifying the fight against the infidels. This has been their response to other military defeats.
If, on the other hand, Iran -- which, after the Revolution, was the embodiment of the kind of theocracy the Islamists hope to impose across the Muslim world -- collapses without outside interference, the Islamists' cause will be deeply shaken ideologically. Adherents' belief that they are on the right side of history will be tested by the facts -- the Islamic Republic was rejected by Muslims.
And assuming Ledeen's reading of recent events in Iran is accurate (at a minimum, it is convincing that the nation is on the brink of something big), then we might not have to wait that long for collapse.
The Iraq priority is driven by three imperatives. First, there is the need for legal and moral justification for a military strike against a sovereign state in retaliation for attacks by an ostensibly trans-national terrorist group for which the sovereign state cannot be proven culpable.
This is an imperative of both domestic and international politics, and the need to minimize the potentially de-stabilizing international precedent of a preemptive rather than retaliatory military strike. The legal and moral case for attacking Saddam has been made repeatedly in the last decade following the Gulf War based on Saddam's brazen violations of the terms of the cease-fire. It is a case that has proven to be both persuasive and politically durable even prior to the 9/11 attacks. If Bush's domestic and international critics feel free to challenge him for "failing to make the case" against the hated and nefarious Saddam, imagine the outcry over a proposed attack on Iran. "Where's the proof of their culpability for 9/11?" and "what about Saddam?" Bush's critics would no doubt be shouting from the rooftops. There would be no international law predicate comparable to Saddam's violation of Gulf War treaties and U.N. resolutions, and no moral imperative comparable to Saddam's use and attempted acquisition of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The second imperative is the need to in fact stop Saddam from acquiring such weapons of mass destruction. This is fundamentally an imperative of the President's duty to protect American citizens from the use of such weapons, but it is also a geopolitical imperative - - one of preventing the kind of shift in regional power relations which would neutralize our ability to take on the sovereign terror masters. Indeed, our ability to sustain Bush's War on Terror may in fact hinge on our ability to remove Saddam before he can blackmail us with a nuclear strike capability.
The third imperative is one of maximizing the reverberating impacts of our next military target given the aforementioned difficulties of preemptive mobilization. By deposing the most entrenched of the Arab tyrants, we will demonstrate to the other sovereign terror masters both our willingness and ability to deal with them in a similar fashion. We will also likely embolden rebellion and internal regime change in Iran and other terrorist sponsoring states with a less firm a grip on internal dissent than Iraq. Conversely, the consequences of an American unwillingness to take on so obvious a target as Saddam would likely be catastrophically debilitating to the War on Terror. The Bush doctrine would cease to be taken seriously by allies and foes alike. European and domestic critics would no doubt begin to call for global military disengagement. Meanwhile the international terrorist networks would surely begin to regroup, secure in the knowledge of their ability to weather even frontal American retaliation without permanent damage to their infrastructure.
BECAUSE WE CAN
In re: your question "Why Iraq before Iran?" The answer to this has a parallel in the old joke -- "Why does a dog lick it's balls?" Answer: "Because it can." Whether anybody else likes it or not, we are in a position to force effective change in Iraq immediately. It's not clear to me that we can say the same about Iran. Also, there are strong democratic currents running through Iran now; it's not obvious how best to promote these tendencies (abrupt and aggressive military activity, even highly focused -- surgical, if you will -- might not work to our advantage within Iran -- even ignoring the rest of the world). However, I agree with Ledeen's basic premise that the present Iranian regime is a bigger and more insidious long-range threat. I also believe that the national security apparatus of the current administration is hard at work on this problem and doesn't intend to rationalize it away.
I just got the book today, and haven't cracked it yet, but I do have a theory on why Iraq before Iran. 1) Iran isn't working on weapons of mass destruction (probably because their Islamist revolution ran most all the scientists and engineers out). Iraq is. We need to kill Saddam and end his weapons program ASAP. 2) Iraq is shaky, but Iran seems even shakier. With us next door, aching for an excuse to hit them now, we may spark a revolt. Instant recognition of a new, friendly Iranian government, intervention to put it in power, elections in both within a year or so . . . What could be better for us?
But otherwise I agree with what you wrote. Ol' Shrub is proving pretty damn canny, or at least, he's listening to some Machiavellian advisors. Reminds me of Aguinaldo in the Philippines. He was universally reviled as dumb, but he was honest and picked good advisors, and so did better than any Philippine President before or since.
A LONG, GLORIOUS OP-ED
To approach the book from a different standpoint, I found Mr. Ledeen's writing very readable and gripping. He presented complex information in a clear and concise fashion, yet he was not talking down or preaching to us (obviously, the less informed). He has a very lively and forthright writing style that made reading this book not only pleasurable, but very motivating. I read the book in less than two days. Could not put it down. I truly enjoy reading Bernard Lewis but this was more like a long, glorious and very educated op-ed piece that I could not put down. Here's hoping to his vision of "how we can win" truly does happen!
THE LONG WAR
A question for Mr. Ledeen: In reading your book, I was struck many times by the notion that the war against the terror masters began in earnest in 1979, with the Iranian hostage crisis. If we were to include this war in a high school text book, the hostage crisis would be the event and date to memorize for the test -- the Fort Sumpter, Sarajevo, Pearl Harbor, etc., of the war on Muslim terror. In this historical context, the unity of the terror masters becomes manifest, and the fecklessness of all presidents since and including Carter becomes clear.
Do you think the public debate about the war with Iraq specifically and the war against terrorism in general would be better informed by talking in terms of a war waged against the United States for nearly a quarter decade that only recently became top-of-mind in the White House?
1. Why does Mr. Ledeen prefer that the U.S. deal with Iran before Iraq, when the strategic position of Iraq is so much more critical? When American Alliance forces control Iraq: (a) Iran is geographically isolated, stuck between Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, (b) the overland flow of terrorists, money and arms from Iran to Lebanon is interdicted, and (c) Syria/Lebanon is completely surrounded by Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Looked at this way, Iraq is the geo-strategic linchpin of the region. Saddam or no Saddam, there's appeal in going after Iraq first.
2. Ledeen notes that: "We will certainly win the war, but we must also win the peace, and I devote several pages to discussing how best to do that (the model should be our policies toward Germany and Japan after World War II)." It seems to me that a major problem with Arab nations and African countries is that there's no tradition of nationhood in a western sense. What we call the "countries" of Afghanistan, Iraq, Zimbabwe, etc. are actually hodgepodge collections of warring ethnic tribes and religious groups. How can the model be "our policies toward Germany and Japan after World War II" when the citizens of places such as Afghanistan seem more interested in killing their enemies than in building a modern state?
The corollaries of the first Gulf War include: (1) Syria's complete occupation of Lebanon, after massacring Christian Falange leaders and almost all of the Sham'un clan, and (2) Israel's concessions to the Arabs at the Madrid Conference and later at Oslo.
The green light given to the Syrians to occupy and (for all practical purposes) annex Lebanon was a reward for their participation in the then "coalition." Similarly, the Madrid "Peace Conference" was payment to Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
What will be the side effects of the coming war on Iraq? With Sharon as Prime Minister do not expect any Israeli concessions in the coming war on Iraq. However, I am concerned that China will use the opportunity that US attention is focused elsewhere and will attack Taiwan.
THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM:
Haven't read Ledeen's book, only his summary on your site and related editorial pieces he's filed in the FT and elsewhere, but I think the central issue is this: To what extent should U.S. policy emphasize, and U.S. strategy rely upon, the development of democratic regimes in these Four Horsemen of the Islamofascist Apocalypse?
My answer is, not at all. Though Ledeen's spot on when he notes that these regimes require different policy approaches, any regime change which we help bring about will almost certainly produce widely divergent outcomes in each nation, outcomes which we have next to zero ability to predict or control.
My own experience with Russia, a relatively free but pseudo-capitalist pseudo-democracy that lurched in wildly unpredictable ways during the 1990s and whose workings to this day are not even dimly understood by us, convinced me that our power to effect sweeping changes in a large modern state is extremely limited. Our ability to create democracy, an extraordinarily evolved and delicate balance of political, social, economic and cultural forces that represents several hundred years of Atlanticist European development, is about as great as the ability of your Apple tech support phone rep to teach you in ten minutes how to create your own operating system.
Why do we retain such illusions? I suppose we're prisoners of our extraordinary success with Germany and Japan. What we forget is that each of those countries was utterly, brutally destroyed by its conquerors - in Germany's case, nearly an entire generation of young German women was raped and millions of other German civilians were killed (read R. Conquest's latest book on the former); and of course, we nuked Japan. The establishment of democracy in these two postwar regimes was a bizarre fluke that has not been and will not be repeated. If even Argentina can descend so rapidly into economic and political chaos, then what chance is there that Iraq, Iran, Saudi or Syria will become both orderly and democratic in our lifetimes?
Fess up, Andrew: would you bet a substantial sum of your retirement funds on such an unlikely outcome? If not, then why on earth should this nation's policy be predicated on this longshot of all longshots?
Far better for us to recognize that the majority of the world's states are politically primitive--economically incompetent, brutal, disorderly, in varying degrees incapable of defending the currency, administering justice, passing intelligent legislation or ensuring a decent level of opportunity and political participation for their unhappy citizens--and that we can no more create advanced, stable democracy in those states in our lifetimes than
Hillary and Co. could rip up and replace the US healthcare system within a year or two.
We badly need a new Burke or Niebuhr to clear out the fog of illusions enveloping both right and left today. Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines - to take a few of the most advanced of the non-OECD countries - are not stable, competently-governed, well-functioning democracies; what reason is there to think that the nightmare states and feudal/tribal/deferentially-based societies of our Four Horsemen would achieve what these states are far from achieving?
- 10:33 AM
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
LEDEEN'S FIRST RESPONSE:
First of all, many thanks to everyone: to Andrew for choosing The War Against the Terror Masters--which is a real feather in my little cap--and to you all for the great questions and comments. I wish I'd had some of these comments when the book was in draft form; it'd have been a better book.
Now, then. Full marks to the Monday remark that Bush has taken too long to get on with the war. I've been tearing my hair out for months, monthly in my columns in National Review Online, ending every one with "faster, please." I find it inexcusable, especially since Iran is waiting to happen, and all we have to do there is support an indigenous democratic revolution. And I would be in favor of doing that even if there were no terrorism. The case acquires its urgency from the fact that Iran is the keystone of the terror structure. And so the defeat of the mullahs would be a real body blow to the terrorists all over the world (remember that Hizbollah is global, and depends primarily on Iran
for its power).
I wish we'd just kept active once Afghanistan had been pacified. And that would have made the nation-building (let's call it by its fashionable name) in Afghanistan much easier. Notice that we've just put some Special Forces in Herat, close to the Iranian border. That's because we finally noticed that Iran was trying to repeat in Afghanistan what they did to us in Lebanon in the eighties.
On the central question of spreading the democratic revolution, I think there is much too much pessimism. I do not at all agree with the comment that there was greater reason for belief in its success in Nazi Germany or Communist Soviet Russia than in the Middle East today. Neither Nazi
Germany nor the Soviet Union had anything like the mass demonstrations against the regime that occur with great regularity in Iran, or the desperate uprisings against Saddam at the end of the Gulf War. So there is far more reason to expect freedom-seeking people to fight the evil terror masters in the Middle East, than there was in World War II or in the Soviet Empire.
Sometimes I think there's a kind of racism at work when we discuss Arabs, or, more broadly, Muslims, as if they were lacking a "democracy" or "freedom" chromosome or something. It's not genetic, it's something that has developed over time. And since nobody (myself in the forefront) knows what produces the collapse of civilizations and/or empires, we can't foretell what will happen if we liberate them from their current tyrants. But I will be very surprised if the current Iranian generation, strikingly young (what is it? Something like 65% under 25 years of age...) and quite well educated and very well informed (thanks primarily to broadcasts from National Iranian TV in Los Angeles and Kol Yisrael Farsi radio service from Jerusalem), doesn't insist on a normal western-style civil and political society.
So call me a wild-eyed optimist. I'm a Leo, we're all romantics, you know. But keep in mind that a handful of Leos were central in the Reagan years (I hope that's not classified), so we've got a bit of a track record...
I love that euphemism about "the use of force to spread their faith." It's a high-falutin way to say "they killed our people," which of course is what the war is all about. As I've been at pains to stress, the only common denominator of the terror masters is tyranny. It is NOT NOT NOT religion, although religion is certainly an important component for many of the terrorists themselves--which is why the Ayatollah Khomeini was the Henry Ford of modern terrorism. Don't forget for a minute that the Assads and Saddam are secular socialists, not religious zealots. Their embrace of Islamic fundamentalism is pure opportunism.
Finally, there's that old chestnut "our values must be spread solely by suasion." Not. The greatest instrument for the spread of democracy in the 20th century was the American Army, and in the Middle East today the spread of democracy is intimately linked to the success of the war. It is almost as if belief in Western values depends on the success of Western arms. Does that sound familiar? It's a variation of the "God is on our side" doctrine. The outcome of struggle shows which side God is on. Maybe we modern acculturated intellectuals don't believe it, but the peoples of the Middle East--if you must, call it "the street"--mostly do believe it. And so if you want to spread our values, you've gotta win the war.
Indeed, the success of bin Ladenism and Khomeiniism is due in large part to our failure to engage the terrorists lo these many years. If we had knocked them out earlier--as we should have--we wouldn't be facing this war today.
And that's the sermon of the day from this end.
- 9:19 PM
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
YOU PILE ON
Why Iraq before Iran? Because the Iranians may very well topple the mullahs on their own, and we should give them a chance to do it.
AFTER THE FALL:
The book was very interesting and completely alarming and scary. Question: What does Ledeen think about the possibility of a Shiite v. Baathist uprising/bloodbath in Iraq if an invasion happens?
To my way of thinking, Bush made one important miscalculation (I'm not being critical; I couldn't have done nearly was well!) by not predicting, immediately after his speech at the UN, that Iraq would do exactly what it did: make a false gesture towards accommodation of the "inspectors" without really allowing them the freedom they need to do their job (assuming the latter is possible at all.)
Saddam's gambit was entirely predictable; I guess what was surprising was the celerity with which he acted. But the Bushies should have been ahead of him on this one.
I find much to appreciate in Michael Ledeen's article "The War on Terror Won't End in Baghdad." As he points out, we are engaged in a war against regimes clamoring for our destruction. Our enemy is not confined to Iraq, but to a block of Arab and Muslim nations that include Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. I further concur that people in these lands will join us only if they believe we are serious, and this will happen only when they see us winning.
Surely, the fall of one regime will undermine the potency of the others. I might add that our enemies have effectively been at war with us for two generations (supporting terrorism, nationalizing our oil, taking over our embassy, conducting hostile propaganda, etc.)
However, I do not share Ledeen's optimism that there is, or can be, a vast democratic revolution on the horizon. Less evidence for that exists in the Arab and Muslim world than did in Hitler Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union. Yet even if there were resistance, I cannot agree that "our greatest weapon in this war is the people oppressed by tyrannical regimes." Our greatest weapon is those Americans who retain our national virtues that aim at liberty -- the values and principles that ought to guide American policy. Our nation was not founded on changing the regimes of other nations (although we do set an example). As John Quincy Adams said, "America is a friend of freedom everywhere, but a custodian only of our own."
I suspect that Mr. Ledeen wants us to be guided in warfare by benevolence, which in this case is bestowing benefits upon oppressed peoples. However, it is righteous indignation, not charity, that moves people to risk life and limb. The ultimate justification for war is self-defense. Once we have won (and that is not guaranteed), we are obligated to prevent regimes from arising that would place us in jeopardy. That is not a matter of benevolence, but of national security.
On a spiritual and ideological level, we should be clear as to what constitutes the crime visited upon us by our enemies. It is not the belief in Allah, or Arab nationalism, or the view that Christians and Jews are infidels. It is rather the utilization of force to spread their faith that requires us to wage war in our defense.
Civilization was not founded on democracy. Moreover, adherence to the popular will (such as that of the Palestinians) might foster unprovoked war. Rather, civilization was founded on protection against aggression, granting people the liberty to do as they please, so long as they do not attack others.
Forcing our way of life upon others starkly contradicts that principle. Our values must be spread solely by suasion. That is what differentiates us from the rest of the world (and especially from Islam). The enemy divides the world into the house of Islam (Dar al Islam) and the house of the infidel (Dar al Harb) which they must conquer. Let us divide the world into those nations that spread their way of life by force, and those that permit it to flow from liberty.
- 7:29 PM
Monday, September 23, 2002
THE DEBATE BEGINS - YOUR COMMENTS
THE MBA'S WAR
A good, informative book. I found the parts that dealt with domestic terror quite chilling. With judges who view going to Al Qaeda camps (that brag in their brochures about terror attacks on the US) as a "lark" or a "spiritual quest" it is hard to be optimistic.
If it's "all for one and one for all" among these terror groups and their state sponsors, then a "taking them on all at once" strategy makes sense (an approach Ledeen seems to favor). But if there are strong centrifugal forces pulling them apart, then increasing those pressures while picking them off one at a time makes sense. I think this is the approach the administration has chosen. I don't think the President, who's made it clear he's going to work this problem his entire time in office, is going to give up at the first sign of success.
An MBA might approach a major project by constructing a time line as a guide: There would be a chart, with the key dates and how much time available for each task and their sequence. I think the President is conducting the War on Terror much this way (though, of course, the fog of war requires much built in flexibility).
For the Afghan campaign he needed allies in the region - allies who would sign up for a war on Afghanistan, but not for a follow-up war with Iran. Iraq, however, would be much less of a problem since it was already isolated politically. Once regime change occurs there, Syria and Iran will be isolated geographically and politically. So the Bush team got the Afghan situation well in hand before he began talking about Iran as part of the Axis of Evil -- perhaps to freeze the Mullahs in place as we move on Saddam (they could hope to save themselves simply be laying low).
As for Iraq, the Pentagon says they need long nights and cool days and more stocks of ammunition and more reliable bases in the region before engaging. The CIA says they need more time to build up resources inside Iraq. So Bush says, fine, we'll do it next winter. But what to do in the meantime? One thing you cannot do is continually talk about Iraq for ten months while doing nothing about Iraq. So if the world demands we talk about the perennial Palestinian problem in March, then he talks about the Palestinians. For four months. Pencil it in. Besides, the attention of our enemies will be diverted to this front, too.
Arafat had timed his terror war to take place when our soldiers in Afghanistan were dying by the hundreds and while riots and chaos consumed much of the Islamic world (and the streets of Europe and the US, too). This was all predicted in the BBC disinformation campaign (he probably got promises from the Taliban and Al Qaeda, too). It's not Arafat's fault that peace broke out in Afghanistan..
Making the best of a bad situation, Arafat tried to gain in stature by disrespecting the President: his terrorists struck with bloody effect whenever Zinni and Powell were in the region. But once the four months were up, the President turned the table on Arafat by dismissing him in a Rose Garden speech (with a 'dissed' Colin Powell by his side) in which he didn't even mention Arafat's name. Now Arafat must concentrate on staying in power. If he makes trouble when we invade Iraq he'll be exiled while the war has the world's attention (in fact, it might happen before since he insists on being trouble).
After the Rose Garden speech, some one said, "Let's talk about domestic issues." Bush said, "Sure, I'll talk about Domestic issues. For a month. Then I'm going on vacation. Pencil it in."
What about those unresolved UN resolutions mandating unfettered UN-effective UN-inspections? I think at some point we'll demand a complete list of everything Iraq's got and if they have trouble providing it we'll go in and help them. We took Kandahar with 200 Pashtun irregulars, 24 special-ops guys, and lots of airpower. I'm sure the Iraqi military is aware of this. With our help an Iraqi battalion could roll through whole divisions. Is there a Colonel Karzai out there?
And after Saddam? For one thing, we'll have more help than anyone could possibly want getting Iraq up and running again. As for the next move in the war on terror: We'll just have to restart the "peace process" while we work that out. We got some scores to settle with Hizbollah while we are at it. Will Iran help them or abandon them? And will Syria accept our "help" in clearing them out of Lebanon?
MY TWO CENTS:
I found the main significance of the book the way in which it was able to convince me that all these states - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia - are inextricably part of the puzzle. The notion that we can deal with these issues separately from one another is a hopelessly uninformed one. We have to finish Afghanistan before we tackle Iraq? Doesn't Gore realize that tackling Iraq will make Afghanistan immensely easier? And the Israel-Palestine issue will only be resolved once the broader regional incentives for terror are removed. But I have one question: why Iraq before Iran? Michael is very persuasive (to me, at least) that Iran is the key danger in the region. So my first question to him is: Why should we not be tackling that country first?
- 9:31 PM
Monday, September 02, 2002
THE WAR AGAINST THE TERROR MASTERS
Why It Happened. Where we Are Now. How We'll Win.
by Michael A. Ledeen
purchase at amazon.com [USA]
purchase at amazon.ca [Canada]
purchase at amazon.co.uk [Europe]
MICHAEL LEDEEN INTRODUCES HIS BOOK:
I wrote "The War Against the Terror Masters" to put our situation in historical context, to provide non-specialist readers with a clear picture of our enemies (both the terrorists themselves and the countries that support them), to describe the coming war, and finally to define our national objectives both during and after the fighting. Thus the book's subtitle: "Why it Happened. Where we are Now. How we will Win."
The "why" covers both the rise of the terror network and the failure of successive presidents to deal seriously with the problem. Every president since Jimmy Carter declared war on terrorism, but this is the first time we have actually waged that war. Since I worked on counterterrorism for a few years in the 1980s, and have written about it since the mid-seventies, when I was Rome correspondent for The New Republic, I have some useful information that, so far as I know, has not been public before, such as the existence of terrorist sleeper networks inside the United States at least since the early eighties, and the CIA's formal abandonment of the "no new Pearl Harbor" mission that was the reason for its creation. Then I take the analysis one step further by explaining the connection between bad policy and bad intelligence, and fold in the wicked role of Congress in the whole sad story.
"Where we are Now" deals with our enemies: the main terrorist organizations, from al Qaida to Hizbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the four terror states of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Here I argue that the common denominator of our enemies is tyranny. Not religion (Saddam Hussein and the Assads in Syria came to power as secular socialists, and have only recently feigned religious conviction), and certainly not ethnicity (Iranians are Persians, not Arabs). I try to dispel some of the nonsense that has characterized much of the "analysis" (such as the purportedly unbridgeable chasm between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims), and call attention to the crucial but under-appreciated fact that the tyrants are hated by their own people. This leads to a proper understanding of the nature of the war against the terror masters.
The conventional mantra that the war on terrorism will be a totally new kind of war, is right about some of the details - we will have to defeat clandestine organizations as well as national armies, and we will have to fight at home as well as abroad-but it is true only in part. The main part of the war - the campaign against the terror masters who rule countries hostile to us - is a very old kind of war. It is a revolutionary war, right out of the 18th century, the very kind of war that gave us our national identity. We will require different strategies in each case. We will need one method and set of tools to bring down Saddam Hussein, another strategy to break the Assad family dictatorship in Syria, a very different approach to end the religious tyranny in Iran and yet another to deal with Saudi Arabia's active support for fundamentalist Islam and the terror network. But the mission is the same in each case: bring down the terror masters.
We will certainly win the war, but we must also win the peace, and I devote several pages to discussing how best to do that (the model should be our policies toward Germany and Japan after World War II).
- 2:28 PM
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