Tuesday, February 21, 2012

US Interests in Egypt vis-a-vis the Muslim Brotherhood

Here's an essay I penned about a year ago for a magazine article. Parts are overcome, of course, by the so-called "Arab Spring"

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda Versus American Security

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was founded by Hassan Al-Banna in 1928 in Cairo to resist the secularization of Egyptian politics and to contribute to the Palestinians who were rioting in then-Palestine. Along with sharing many of their salafist religious views, Al-Banna based some of his operational skills on the Wahhabi Ikhwan under the contemporaneous command of Ibn Saud in the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Banna himself described the Brotherhood as “a Salafiya message, a Sunni way, a Sufi truth, a political organization, an athletic group, a scientific and cultural union, an economic enterprise and a social idea.” [Hiro, p. 61]

The religious duty of Jihad to Al-Banna was a mass-based movement based on “The Quran is our constitution.” [Kepel, p. 12] with a broad-brush conception of “jihad” containing elements of Sufism and other heterodox strains which repelled purists like Sayyid Qutb. Banna’s loose concept of “jihad” resembled more a passive aggression against secularism [Peters, p. 161] than the later violent extremism of Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, Dr. Ayman Zawahiri, who started as a Muslim Brother, but was a leader of Al-Jihad when it killed President Anwar Sadat.

My thesis is that relatively peaceful movements like the Egyptian Brotherhood will continue to serve as a seedbed for germinating more radical and terror-minded zealots who may eventually migrate to organizations like Al Jihad and Al Qaeda. The difference in the beliefs in Jihad between the original Egyptian Brotherhood and its offshoots like Al Jihad, inspired by Sayyid Qutb, whose Salafist writings inspired the Egyptian Al Jihad and its eventual partner-in-terror Al Qaeda, are very wide and deep. [Kepel, p. 226] Their differences also separated the Brotherhood systems from the Al-Jihad/Al Qaeda dramatically in the view of the rest of the Arab world. Outside the purview of this paper, Al Qaeda had spawned imitators in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, perhaps Nigeria and has executed attacks on India and on foreign tourist spots in these countries to demonstrate that the original doctrines of takfir and other exclusive Hanbali traditions under the Salafist code remain active.

The “so what?” question vis-à-vis US policy would normally intrude, but the 9/11 events [starting in 1993] and their aftermaths have made American foreign policy decisions contingent to some extent on arcane interpretations of Islamic theology and religious practices. This isn’t a logical progression, but it is a sort of reaction which takes place when a protean non-governmental underground attacks a statist entity like the U.S.A. As when anarchists were assassinating Europe and America’s leaders around the beginning of the twentieth century, there naturally ensues an impulse to know one’s enemy if only to learn how to stop its advocates from gaining new recruits. Therefore touching on inconsistencies in American foreign policy as they concern sectarians such as the Wahhabi movement and its Al Qaeda offshoots as well as the Egyptian Brotherhood and its offspring such as Al Jihad can be relevant to understanding past mistakes and mapping future policy. As an apt example, American troops should not be based in Saudi Arabia ever again.

Indeed, the overall problem is far more complex than mere adjustments in American policy. Sadat’s assassination in 1981 was portrayed by its perpetrators as a being caused by Camp David, but probably had its proximate cause from Sadat’s harsh crackdown on religious and political dissidents only months prior to Sadat’s death. And in a parallel manner, perhaps, the murder of 241 Marines in Beirut by Hezbollah were manifestations of a Syrian/Hezbollah joint operation with control of Lebanon as its aim rather than related to Israel, at least as a primary goal. An intelligence agency’s reach often exceeds its grasp in the intricate and shadowy underworld of the raw material of constructivist theory. And think tanks and academics rarely concern themselves with the sordid pettiness of sectarian factions and ethnic clumpings in a country like Lebanon. Or Sufi rivalries and clan feuds in Egypt or Syria. Or any number of the powderkegs which historians always infer from their post-mortems on events like 9/11. The Middle East is like tomorrow’s weather, only less predictable the further out one projects the future. An observation made in the early ‘90s puts the problem this way: “the reassertion of Islam in the social and political sphere came to world attention as one of the most unpredicted movements of modern times……eviscerat(ing) the models used by a confident America to predict the future in the aftermath of victory in Word War II… [This] is attested to by the fact that between the end of World War II and the onset of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978-79, a bare handful of books about contemporary Islam were written by Americans….[here he cites Richard Mitchell and Morroe Berger as exceptions]…..Muslim assertiveness did not develop out of sight of non-Muslim observers; the observers simply failed to see. [Bulliet, opp.193-4] .” I believe that American policy in the Middle East can be placed in the realist camp since World War II, or rather the foundation of Israel, with few sincere efforts to change the balance of forces in the region, which since Israel’s victories over the Arabs has largely favored American interests to such a degree that America was blinded to alternative paradigms to its own hegemony.

The only two major idealist exceptions to US policy’s benign neglect have been The Camp David Accords of the late ‘70s and the Idealist shift by the G.W.Bush administration after the military victory in Iraq, although Condoleeza’s Rice’s insistence that Hamas participate in the 2006 Palestine Authority elections might be considered a third. [This miscalculation followed the Israeli miscalculation in the early ‘80s when they set up Hamas as a religious-based movement to counter the secular PLO!]. In Iraq, after post-victory chaos brought about an insurrection based on sectarian and ethnic divisions, Wilsonian idealism was conveniently unpacked to engage in what G.W. Bush ‘s inner circle had previously derided as “nation-building.” In Iraq, this invasive and intrusive methodology has led to democratization and the liberation of Shi’ite and Kurdish minorities [although the Shi’ites actually comprised a demographic majority of Iraqi citizens.] The Shi’ites, along with America and Israel, are one of the three top “enemies” of the Arab Umma in Osama bin Laden’s bogus “fatwa.” [Wright, pp. 47-48]. In the funhouse mirror perceptions of the Al-Qaeda/Al-Jihad worldview, the Shi’ite ascent in Iraq would increase their paranoia and that of the mindset of their Sunni Islamicist allies post-9/11.

But as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds and in this and many other respects, American regional policy toward the Middle East has differed sharply from country to country and from U.S. administration to administration with regard to supporting democracy, human rights, and other basic freedoms in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and environs. The American hands-off policy has led to the prolonged continuation of the Egyptian Brotherhood’s domestic suppression and a lack of any democratic progress in Saudi Arabia, leading to underground movements seeking on the one hand, a more free and open democratic government in Egypt [the Brotherhood], and on the other more strict elimination of kufr in the Islamic shar’ia enforcement in Saudi Arabia [Al-Qaeda].

Finally, the strong and steady support which the United States has given Israel since its foundation as a state in 1948 has built up a strong anti-American bias among the average Arab on the street, varying widely from country to country. For Osama bin Laden and his Al-Jihad partners in Afghanistan, Israel was and remains the focal point of outrage which justifies terrorist acts against the West and America, the convenient puppeteer manipulating everything from backstage. Twisted and un-Islamic as most of Osama bin Laden’s uncanonical “fatwas” may be, they fall on a receptive audience. This paper cannot do more than outline the problem facing US policy, but it can attempt to describe the Islamicist garden and some of its bitter fruit.

“The Wahhabi revolution in the 18th century…marks the first withdrawal of consent from Ottoman Turkish supremacy. Although without any conscious or explicit Arabism, it was a movement of Arabs away from the predominantly Persian and Turkish ideas and practices that had reshaped Islam since the Middle Ages. Although the ….. full Wahhabi doctrine found few converts in the Middle East, the religious revivalism it brought influenced Muslims in many lands and infused them with a new militancy….”[Lewis,p. 103] After a dormancy of the Saud-Wahhabi alliance through much of the 19th century, Abd al Aziz bin Saud in the early 20th century employed it in the process of stitching together the constantly feuding and warring tribes outside Ottoman jurisdiction by encouraging tribal conversion to Wahhabism. Ibn Saud did this to suborn what was left of the Ottoman Empire’s rule in Arabia and turn the tribes’ plundering ways against the Saud family’s other enemies. This led to Ibn Saud’s establishing of around 200 Ikhwan “colonies” averaging 2000 inhabitants and controlled from Riyadh through tribal notables held as hostages. [Helms, p. 131]

The height of Ibn Saud’s long string of successes from 1928-35 in establishing himself as unquestioned ruler of most of the Arabian peninsula coincided with the foundation and rapid expansion of the Muslim Ikhwan in Egypt under Al-Banna’s leadership. At the same time, Ibn Saud’s ‘Asir’s conquest, ratified by the Treaty of Taif [Wilkinson, p. 161] in 1935, included many ancestral Yemeni lands and clans of Yemeni settlers. This loss of ‘Asir and other Yemeni lands to Ibn Saud’s family rule was to present one of the significant grudges that much later Osama bin Laden [along with many other Saudi “citizens” of Yemeni heritage] was to hold against the Saudis, whom he considered the invaders of Yemen, his ancestral family’s homeland. Later Osama bin Laden would center his global network through Yemen by having his operations center in Sana through which he directed Al-Qaeda worldwide from Afghanistan. He would intermarry with young Yemeni tribal notables’s families a la Ibn Saud [Wright, p 338]. As a sidebar to the entire 9/11 fiasco, the NSA would intercept these Yemen-op center messages and refuse to share them with either the CIA and FBI or the NSC in the White House, one of the many great blunders leading to 9/11’s “success.” [Wright, pp. 283]

The conservative brand of Islam that stimulated Egyptian Brotherhood martyr Sayyid Qutb to write “Milestones” was based on Islamic theology of Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) who originated the strict takfir theology which Mohammed Al-Wahhab preached as the original political theory of the Arabian Ikhwan, [Peters, pp. 43-44] Ibn Taymiyya influenced to a lesser degree the Ibadis of Oman and the Zaydis of Yemen. These strains of fundamentalist Islam were based on the writings of the Hanbali School of Islamic theology, the most conservative of the four schools. All three only recognized shar’ia law and considered all other legal and political systems as degrees of kufr [unbelief]. The Wahhabis were the most stringent in that all who did not submit to shari’a law were considered guilty of shirk [polytheism]. Indeed, it was through this kind of fundamentalist indoctrination that Ibn Saud had raised an army of fanatical soldiers who extended the rule of the Saud family throughout the greater part of the peninsula by military force backed by religious zealotry. [Hiro, pp.108-116]

Hasan Al Banna’s organization, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun or Muslim Brotherhood “should not be confused with the Brotherhood of Saudi Arabia although the groups had similar views on many issues.” [Munson, p. 76] Among the shared views were the liberation of the Islamic state from all foreign powers and rule by shari’a law. But the Egyptian Ikhwan did not consider those disagreeing with their strict interpretations as being apostates and thus worthy of death. The Wahhabis did so.

Al-Banna’s assassination in 1949 broke up the Brotherhood’s unity, which at its peak had over 500,000 male members throughout Egypt. The Free Officer’s Movement under Nasser soon threw the chief Brotherhood members into prison where Sayyid Qutb composed a simple lucid exposition of how and why the western-influenced Arab secular states were in jahaliyya, or a polytheistic pre-Islamic condition, and must be overthrown through revolution by true Islamic believers. Qutb’s book Milestones, written while he was a political or rather religious prisoner, became vastly influential after his execution in 1966 [Wright, pp. 7-40].

In 1996, Zawahiri and Bin Laden and their companions were expelled from Sudan after a failed assassination attempt on Mubarak. Finally, Al-Jihad formally combined in Afghanistan with Al-Qaeda in 1998. [Wright, pp.268-9] In a sense, Egyptian competence and worldly skill-sets were allied with the Arabian peninsula’s visionary millenarianism to form a deadly underground movement.

Dr. Al-Zawahiri as the Egyptian head of Al-Jihad, considered Egypt as the lynchpin of the entire Al Qaeda enterprise. However, Osama bin Laden was a visionary thinker and set several plots underway against the United States, including attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as well as an attack on the US Cole in Aden harbor in Yemen.

Osama’s chief strategist and organizer of the attacks on the USA, which bin Laden obsessively blamed along with Israel & Shi’ites for all the ills of the Islamic world, was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was a gifted organizer and enlisted an Egyptian engineer named Mohammed Atta as spearhead of Al Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, which KSM’s nephew Ramzi Yousef had severely damaged in 1993 more or less outside the Al Qaeda organization.

But Osama’s preoccupation, one might say obsession, with overthrowing the Saudis or setting them against what he regarded as their American puppet master led to the WTC operation being staffed mainly by 15 young “martyrs” carrying Saudi passports. Of those fifteen, at least 10 were of Yemeni origin by heritage or birth, like Osama bin Laden. [Wright, pp. 304-315]

After the astounding success of the World Trade Center attack, Al Qaeda leapfrogged over the secular leftist Arab organizations such as the PLO and Ba’ath Parties as the most effective opponent of western hegemony over the Middle East. Because he had actually attacked and succeeded, he was an immediate icon. Yet as an underground organization, Al Qaeda had no home address other than Afghani caves and its membership there was decimated immediately after 9/11 with the US B-52 attacks on Tora Bora. [Wright, p. 371] Bin Laden was one of the few survivors as was Zawahiri, and lives a furtive medieval existence now in Pakistan’s Tribal Territories. He apologized to the ruling Taliban for inciting the American invasion just before they themselves were violently removed from power in Afghanistan.

With 9/11 and the Pentagon attacks, America’s sense of itself felt violated, but its foreign policy had lashed out in a 20th century military-first manner. Although G. W. Bush made the immediately politically popular responses, only his invasion of Afghanistan had broad long-lasting international support. And despite Clinton’s pulling off a Bosnian war without UN sanctions, Iraq was a harder sell and only a few NATO allies supported the attack on Saddam, which was largely discredited after the lack of WMD and nuclear bomb development materials.

Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the world was to later discover the mushrooming of other underground franchises more or less spontaneously in various Arab countries, particularly ones like Egypt where normal political participation is denied to the Muslim Brotherhood, the main political party. In the past, just belonging to a formally banned party like the Brotherhood registered one’s Islamic cred, so to speak. But now it appeared in Egypt, a sort of tectonic shift which formerly made Brotherhood membership a symbolic protest against secularism was now deemed somehow insufficient for full alignment with one’s religious beliefs. As Albert Hourani noted in his epilogue: “As a political movement, the [Egyptian] Brothers were more like a nationalist movement than Mahdism or Wahhabism: their object was to generate popular energy in order to seize power rather than to restore the rule of Islamic virtue. [Hourani, p. 360]

In addition, corner-grocery terrorist cells were formed of Muslim expatriates living in Europe, sometimes highly-educated skilled Arabs like Mohammed Atta who were underemployed or without any job whatsoever. Arab and Pakistani students in Germany and other generous amnesty countries were also invited to join cells which sought “jihad” to mimic the 9/11 attacks in a scaled-down manner. Mosques in France, the UK and Germany also were recruiting grounds. [Wright, 306-07]

Other acts of planned terror by Al Qaeda and its clones have been nipped in the bud by good police and intelligence work in the US and Europe. [Thiessen, pp. 409-437 Appendices II, III] In Europe, horrific “successful” acts of indiscriminate terror in London and Madrid have often been on symbolic anniversaries of previous acts of terror, an Al-Qaeda trademark even if Al Qaeda had no hand in organizing the mass murders.

Although the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Al Qaeda’s virtual physical neutralization in neighboring Waziristan have largely shut down the operational aggressive function of Al Qaeda itself, the absence of any successful attacks on the United States since 9/11 does not mean that there is not a continuing threat, as the capture of the unsuccessful underwear bomber in Detroit on Christmas, 2009, demonstrated. As a sort of Johnny Appleseed of death, Osama bin Laden still influences American political, military, and symbolic values. [And after his death, this snake's poison is still lethal.]

The overarching problem that the current international deadlock in the Middle East presents is the inability of any Islamic political party to succeed on a trans-national basis without employing the extraordinary religious militancy peculiar to the region. Coupled with this is an American policy of gradual disengagement as practiced by the Obama administration. Morocco, Kuwait, and Jordan do allow Egyptian Brotherhood sister parties to function openly as loyal opposition. Otherwise, with the exception of the diplomatically-isolated enclave of Gaza, where the Egyptian Brotherhood’s sister party, Hamas, exerts a tyrannical grip and an uncompromising stance vis-à-vis Israel, all parties affiliated with or sharing the shar’ia state goals of the Egyptian Brotherhood have been vigorously suppressed, and in Algeria at the cost of a long bloody civil conflict after the secular government overturned an Islamic victory at the polls.

American foreign policy may be waning in influence over the region’s politics compared to what it had under previous administrations such as Clinton, Carter, Reagan and the two Bushes. As long as Mubarak is in charge in Egypt and the Saudis remain in a feudal monarchy, there is little hope for movement unless another completely unexpected turn of events occurs. If Iran is any prologue, a “White Revolution” attempting broad reforms might turn bloody at the first sign of weakness in the leadership of either country. And as Iran demonstrated, the US would be relatively helpless at crisis management in such a situation.

Useful Books I would suggest are:
The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the road to 9/11, Lawrence Wright
Muslim Extremism in Egypt, Gilles Kepel
Arabia’s Frontiers, John C. Wilkinson
Islam and Revolution in the Middle East, Henry Munson, Jr.
Holy Wars: The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, Dilip Hiro
The Cohesion of Saudi Arabia, Christine Moss Helms
Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam Rudolph Peters
The Arab Predicament Fouad Ajami
The Dream Palace of the Arabs Fouad Ajami
Courting Disaster Marc A. Thiessen
The Shaping of the Modern Middle East, Bernard Lewis
Islam, the View From the Edge, Richard W. Bulliet
Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1789-1939, Albert Hourani

Monday, February 13, 2012

Robert Kagan on American Decline as Foreign Hegemon

Robert Kagan wrote Balkan Ghosts and I have read parts of several other of his books on American Exceptionalism.

The link above is to an article in the WSJ which scared Obungler so much that when he heard that Kagan was Mitt's foreign policy advisor, he pissed himself and rewrote the SOTU address. It's in the link and shows once again how The FIRST COWARD is a trembling shadow of GWB, who at least had the stones to call for a surge. No stones in the First Coward.

California Slides into Bankruptcy AKA California's Demographic Revolution

Heather MacDonald has a very long article in City Journal on the inevitable debacle of California's sad suicidal ending as a functioning polity.
Certain policies may help avoid a future of growing income inequality and social decline. One is to stop the emigration of California’s best talent. The state should meet the demand for college-educated workers by making itself attractive to the highly educated, not by trying to dragoon all students into college. California cannot hope to retain the entrepreneurs it still has and to attract others unless it radically revamps its business climate and lowers its taxes (a course made more difficult, though, by the demands on government social services imposed by the growing Hispanic population). Congress could help California stay globally competitive by letting foreign-born Ph.D. students in science and technology automatically obtain green cards to work in the U.S. after completing their degrees.

California should also create a robust vocational-education system. The fashionable prejudice against vocational education will end up bankrupting the school and college systems by forcing students into academically oriented classrooms that hold no interest for them and for which they are not qualified. Further, the blue-collar skilled trades are desperate for workers and pay much better than many a service-sector job (see “Wanted: Blue-Collar Workers,” Autumn 2011). Only 55 percent of Hispanic male students graduated from California high schools in 2007, reports the California Dropout Research Project; many of the dropouts would undoubtedly have welcomed the opportunity to learn a trade. At the same time, California must stop decimating what remains of its manufacturing sector with business-killing regulations (see “The Long Stall,” Autumn 2011).

And Washington should institute an immigration pause for low-skilled immigrants. In 1970, the average Southern California Latino spoke only English and had assimilated to Anglo culture, according to the Pepperdine study. Since then, even though California’s Hispanic population has expanded outside its traditional enclaves and spread across the state and nation, the acculturation process has slowed. In 1988, when accountant and entrepreneur Martha de la Torre began El Clasificado, a free Spanish classified-advertising newspaper, she assumed that the demand for Spanish-language publications would last only a few decades; instead, the market for El Clasificado has grown far beyond its original base in Los Angeles, even as similar English-language publications have gone bankrupt. “I’m surprised by how people in some communities try not to change,” she observes. Teachers, service employees, police officers, and ordinary private-sector workers report that many California residents now expect to be addressed in Spanish.

The reason for this assimilation reversal is our de facto open-borders policy, argues Michael Saragosa, a public-relations consultant who oversaw Latino outreach for Meg Whitman’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. “We need to allow people who are already here to grow into the American Dream over generations,” he says. “That can’t happen when they have a steady flow of people behind them.” Illegal immigration, which did not drop in California during the recession, should be reduced, and legal immigration should be reoriented toward high-skilled immigrants rather than the family members of existing immigrants.

My own experiences with the Mexican & Venezuelan "economies" taught me that the first thing a Latino or Hispanic acquires when climbing the socio-economic ladder are the traditional hidalgo avoidance of manual labor. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, but California's ceaseless lurch toward statist socialism will only increase the percentage of sinecures that an expanding state govt. will provide, and that on a proportional basis.

Heather has a solid article, but she overlooks some of those eternal verities that don't disappear over mere decades in historical evolution.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Super Bowl Half Time show & ads = "Mourning in America?"

Richard Spencer in Altright has a good piece on Clint Eastwood's ad for Chrysler. Worth a read. Here's the punch line:
In 1984, the Reagan-Bush election team announced that it was “Morning in America.” Socionomically speaking, for the GOP middle-class base, this meant that run-away inflation was over; the Dow Jones was in a secular bull market; companies were hiring; and Americans could feel proud again.

“Half Time” is something like “Mourning in America.” In terms of the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief” schema, it suggests that, collectively, Americans are somewhere between Depression and Denial.

Chrysler must have recognized that it couldn’t advertise its cars with a “We’re #1!” rock anthem. It must be true to the time. But “Half Time” is, nevertheless, a world of illusions and wishful thinking. A nation-state doesn’t “come back” from public and private indebtedness amounting to 350 percent of GDP—from a financial oligarchy bent on stripping the country bare—from a demographic transformation into a Third World nation—and more. To reformulate F. Scott Fitzgerald, there will be no second half for America. The sooner the Founding stock comes to grips with this fact—and begins charting a different destiny—the better.

SNL also parodied the ad, ending it with the line from Grand Torino: "Get off my lawn!"

In the previous text of Spencer's article which mentions Highland Park, a former prestigious suburb of Detroit, the full meaning of Eastwood's words in the flick are revealed.
UPDATE National Review's Rich Lowry has an entire article on the dishonesty of the Chrysler ad and Obama's deceptive and manipulative policies to deceive a gullible public through a compliant media:
...Congress never approved the bailouts. Given the option to do so explicitly, it declined. The Bush and Obama administrations acted on their own, diverting TARP funds to Detroit regardless of the letter of the law. In Eastwood’s telling, a legally dubious act of executive highhandedness qualifies as patriotic collective action.

By this standard, any initiative of government must be a stirring exercise in people’s power. Remember when we all pulled together to back the solar-panel maker Solyndra to the tune of $500 million? Right now, we are all pulling together to try to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives and morning-after abortifacients for their employees. See? There’s nothing we can’t do — together.

What Chrysler and GM desperately needed in their extremity was to go through Chapter 11 reorganization to pare down wages and benefits, shed uneconomical dealerships, and ditch unnecessary brands. When the government got its hooks in them, it politicized this process and threw some $80 billion at the companies. Since we’ll never get an estimated $23 billion back, we all must be “pulling together” behind Detroit still.

Amid all the patriotic piety, Eastwood neglects to mention that Chrysler is now 58.5 percent owned by Fiat, an Italian company. The heart-tugging images of Turin, Italy, apparently were left on the cutting-room floor.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Syria Approaches a Death Spiral into Assad's Black Hole

Syris is a beautiful country which I've visited several times, most recently in the mid-90s. When I was an Entry-Strategy Exec for Amoco, the Syrian Oil Minister turned up the volume on the TV and began to whisper to me how to identify the various kinds of secret police, a black art necessary to aficionados living in Damascus, one of the oldest and nastiest cities in the world.

The Economist has a good article on the complexities of the internal and foreign position of the many minorities threatened by the predominantly Sunni majority:
Most independent observers in Damascus believe that indeed, in the short term, the Syrian regime’s savage offensive may succeed in containing most forms of armed resistance. But if Deraa is any indication, Mr Assad has little chance of long-term survival. As in a vampire film, citizens go through the motions of daily life, fearful of contact with officials. In the eyes of most, the government is totally discredited, at best an evil to be suffered. The cold fury that clearly burns in many homes, linked now in many hearts to religious fervour, may flare at any time.

Even with the army’s offensive at its peak, flash protests are frequently breaking out across Syria, including in the security-infested heart of Damascus. Over a recent weekend, protesters staged some 400 separate demonstrations. Israel’s military-intelligence chief reported in a recent public briefing that only a third of conscripts answered the latest call-up for Syria’s compulsory military service. He also cited intelligence of cracks in Syria’s command structure, with officers speaking of the need to replace Mr Assad and his clan.

This may be disinformation, designed to dismay Israel’s enemy, Iran. But in economic terms Syria is pitching into a deepening crisis. The central bank’s reserves are believed to have topped $20 billion before the uprising. Since then they are thought to have fallen by as much as two-thirds. Syria’s currency has slipped by nearly 50% in the past few weeks, stoking already fierce inflation. Power cuts and fuel shortages are common, and many of the country’s factories have closed. The tourist industry is all but dead. Syria’s modest oil exports, the staple of government revenue, have virtually dried up.

Many Syrians are convinced that, eventually, Mr Assad will go. What worries them is how. Few expect the opposition to seize Russia’s bait and engage in talks with the regime. Nor do they see Mr Assad retiring willingly. On the other hand, few expect much help from the outside world either. Those who can are leaving the country. Those who cannot are waiting, resigned to their fate.

The problem with Syria is that as long as the bloodbath goes on, the ultimate butcher's bill will lengthen when, as in Iraq, the final toting up after a majority victory eventually takes place and mass murders [no outsider will intervene as in Iraq] ensue.

In 1958 the rioters in Baghdad dragged the King and the Prime Minister's bodies through the street and in the end, all that were left were fingers and other torn flesh. Assad may try to escape, but eventually this London-trained optometrist may meet a similar fate. And from what events in Syria seem to predict, he will have richly deserved it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Santorum an Iron Bar in Mitt's House of Cards?

The Economist thinks so. Could Rick's strength in the Middle West impede Romney's relentless march to a nomination in November in Tampa?

Murray's New Book Irks Economist Leftist

The Economist has been slowly lurching leftward over the last decade or so. I believe this article in Lexington was written by Washington correspondent Ip. Yes that's his name.

Read the final section to see how the Marxist Ip does a buzz-kill on any rational appreciation of Murray's book or those who believe that the white majority in America have ruined the country by their church-going, tax-paying, patriotic ways. Here's the first few paras which are sane enough---Ip goes off the rails in the last section on noblesse oblige.

JUST because he belongs to it himself does not make Newt Gingrich wrong when he grumbles that America is run by an out-of-touch elite. If you want evidence, the data can now be found in a book published this week by Charles Murray, the co-author in 1994 of “The Bell Curve”, which became controversial for positing a link between race and intelligence. That controversy should not deter you. “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010” brims with ideas about what ails America.

David Brooks, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, thinks it will be the most important book this year on American society. And even if you do not buy all Mr Murray’s ideas about what ails America, you will learn much about what conservatives think ails America, a subject no less fascinating. Though it does not set out to do so, this book brings together four themes heard endlessly on the Republican campaign trail. They are the cultural divide between elite values and mainstream values (a favourite of the tea-partiers); the case for religion and family values (think Rick Santorum); American exceptionalism (all the candidates); and (a favourite of Mitt Romney’s) the danger of America becoming a European welfare state.

Mr Murray starts by lamenting the isolation of a new upper class, which he defines as the most successful 5% of adults (plus their spouses) working in managerial positions, the professions or the senior media. These people are not only rich but also exceptionally clever, because America has become expert at sending its brightest to the same elite universities, where they intermarry and confer on their offspring not just wealth but also a cognitive advantage that gives this class terrific staying power.

This new elite is not just a breed apart. It lives apart, in bubbles such as Manhattan south of 96th Street (where the proportion of adults with college degrees rose from 16% in 1960 to 60% in 2000) and a small number of “SuperZips”, neighbourhoods where wealth and educational attainment are highly concentrated. These neighbourhoods are whiter and more Asian than the rest of America. They have less crime and more stable families. They are not, pace Mr Gingrich, necessarily “liberal”: plenty of SuperZips voted Republican in 2004. But they are indeed out of touch.

In the 19th century Alexis de Tocqueville marvelled that in America the opulent did not stand aloof from the people. That, says Mr Murray, is no longer true. He assumes (perhaps too blithely) that this class runs America, but makes decisions on the basis of atypical lives. A great cultural gap separates the elite from other Americans. They seldom watch “Oprah” or “Judge Judy” all the way through. In fact they do not watch much television at all. They eat in restaurants, but not often at Applebee’s, Denny’s or Waffle House, chains that cater to the common taste. They may take The Economist, with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and perhaps the New Yorker or Rolling Stone. They drink wine and boutique beers (and can discuss them expertly) but only in moderation, and they hardly ever smoke cigarettes.

A lot of American commentary about the elite is suffused with a creepy resentment (Mr Gingrich), or exercised by inequality (Occupy Wall Street) or “fairness” (Barack Obama). In contrast, Mr Murray has nothing against this class of good parents and good neighbours. He just wants it to know and care more about the rest of America. And instead of handing over more of its money, he would like it to teach the rest of America its values.

Murray's book is especially timely because he writes about the floundering white majority when it has lost much confidence---largely because of the illegal usurpation of the legislative functions from Congress to the White House [the "czars" and proliferation of "administrative laws" which are frankly risible] and by rogue courts below the Supreme Court such as the zany 9th Circus Court.

9th Circus [pun intended] Court overturns CA voters

The zany moonbats on California's 9th Circus Court have overturned Proposition 8, a CA referendum on same-sex marriages. Once again, the rights of the majority have been challenged by an activist court, whose living fossil Carter-appointee Reinhardt wrote, in order to keep the gay Demonrats happy.

When referenda and other direct-action mechanisms for voters to express their will over corrupt legislatures were instituted back in the beginning of the 20th century, no one dreamed that a band of crazy ueber-left judicial freaks, led in CA by a creep whose private porn site was accidentally included in his online website, would busily overturn the will of the people through chicanery and sick-twisted BS.

California has become the joke of the country, as sane people stream out of the so-called "Golden State" to more sane locations where business isn't persecuted by left-wing taxaholics who seek to impose horrific obstacles to thwart the private sector. I can remember when CA was the land of the future. Now it has become the land of the futile.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Brilliant Eccentric Historian Norman Davies on "Half-Forgotten Europe"

Norman Davies lost an historian's chair at Stanford due to his over enthusiasm for Poland, which he exalted to the point of deeply discounting their anti-Semitism during World War II.

Davies' thick tome on Europe, named appropriately Europe is a delightful excursion through the dozens of dusty corridors of that cramped little continent. It is one of my favorite reading materials for when I am at stool. Here is a bit of the excellent review of Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe
Sometimes the most compelling history is the kind that falls between the cracks of the chronicles and subverts fondly-held foundational myths. The ‘official’ history of Europe is variegated enough to give any number of historians lifetimes of employment, but now the 72 year old Slavonic specialist Davies has produced fifteen case studies dating from the fifth to the twentieth centuries to suggest that a great deal of what we take for granted about Europe’s past is “narrative colonization” which ought to be unlearned. He ends with a short chapter, “How states die”, which seeks to formulate “a typology of vanished kingdoms”.

This all makes for an engrossing, evocative and original contribution to European historiography. There will be few who will not unearth some new insight to challenge conventional, convenient versions of events—the flattering histories which Napoleon famously dismissed as “a fable agreed upon”. The “Europe of a hundred flags” wished for by the Breton nationalist Yann Fouéré is more like a Europe of a thousand flags. “The past is not only a foreign country that we half-knew existed” Davies observes—“it is hiding another concealed country behind it, and behind that one, another, and another, like a set of Russian dolls”.

Davies is a melancholic and romantic, and his intellectual interests have been influenced by his Welshness, chapel-going and early encounters with Heraclitus and Gibbon. He also possesses a Polonism so pronounced that he has (unjustly) been accused of understating historical Polish anti-Semitism and downplaying Jewish suffering during World War Two. This may have cost him a tenured position at Stanford in 1986, something he clearly still broods upon, despite claiming on his (typo-full) website that

. . . he remembers the episode stoically—as evidence of academic small-mindedness and of [the] fate awaiting anyone who confronts entrenched opinions and prejudices.

It cannot have helped that he is strongly anti-communist. His website entry on his 2006 book Europe at War explains his view that communism was the moral equivalent of nazism:

[T]he war in Europe was dominated by two evil monsters, not by one . . . The liberators of Auschwitz were servants of a regime that ran still larger concentration camps than those they liberated . . . The outcome of the [war] was at best ambiguous. The victory of the West was only partial, its moral reputation was severely tarnished and, for the greater part of the continent of Europe, ‘liberation’ was only the beginning of more than fifty years of further totalitarian oppression.

The most recent of his shipwrecks of history is the Soviet Union itself. There were many factors responsible for the USSR’s dissolution, but the problems were fundamental:

[T]he Soviet system was based on extreme force and extreme fraud. Practically everything that Lenin and the Leninists did was accompanied by killing; practically everything they said was based on half-baked theories, a total lack of integrity and bare-faced lies.

He maintains that Gorbachev was probably taken by surprise by the events he expedited—and observes that glasnost, which was invariably rendered in the Western press as “openness”, actually means “publicity”. The subsequent inglorious events traumatized all Russians, and even now feed nationalistic dislike of the oligarchs and the Balt, Turkic, and Chechen separatists of Russia’s near abroad—and of course America. Putin’s rhetoric about the alleged glories of the USSR is coloured by “a strong sense of bafflement” and “pangs of corporate guilt” that he and other insiders did not forestall this degrading dissolution

Davies' account of the USSR closely follows Conquest, Pipes, Solzhenitsyn, Martin Amis, and other brave opponents of the Leftist Leviathan threatening civilization even to this day.

UPDATE Here is a Wall Street Journal article three weeks later on Davies' latest chef d'oeuvre,

Nocera of NYT Blasts Obama & Tree-Huggers on Keystone

Imbecility has rarely been more clearly demonstrated than by a certain Michael Brune, ExecDir of the Sierra Club who intones:
“The effort to stop Keystone is part of a broader effort to stop the expansion of the tar sands,” Brune said. “It is based on choking off the ability to find markets for tar sands oil.”

Nocera is not sparing in his condemnation of Brune's utter incomprehension of any goals or issues outside his tiny cosseted POV buttressed by retarded males and a bunch of little old ladies in tennis shoes:
This is a ludicrous goal. If it were to succeed, it would be deeply damaging to the national interest of both Canada and the United States. But it has no chance of succeeding. Energy is the single most important industry in Canada. Three-quarters of the Canadian public agree with the Harper government’s diversification strategy. China’s “thirst” for oil is hardly going to be deterred by the Sierra Club. And the Harper government views the continued development of the tar sands as a national strategic priority.

Thus, at least one country in North America understands where its national interests lie. Too bad it’s not us.

Read the entire article to understand how the Obungler is a cowardly misfit in the Oval Office, especially on energy issues. Solyndra isn't the only criminal act perpetrated against the American economy. The Keystone Debacle is an equally heinous crime against the American taxpayer and the American economy.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

New England loses.....again!!!

Contemptible insufferable twerp Eli Manning and his crew of despicable dolts beat the New England Patriots after Wes Welker turned briefly into Jermichael Finley, the Packer who set a new Lambeau record for ball-drops about a month ago.

Tom Brady played ALMOST as well as twerp Manning in the third and fourth, but the Pats couldn't recover THREE fumbles, or rather recovered one at the enemy's five yard line only to discover that Belichek's exquisite coaching skills allowed TWELVE men on the field, so the recovered fumble was erased. And that's the way this cursed game proceeded, with G-men miscues that the Pats refused to capitalize on.

As a long-suffering Packer fan whose second team is the Pats, I've seen both go down to the team with the most obnoxious fan base on the planet. There's always next year.....