Thursday, August 03, 2006

Living in fear of fear

DM: The reason that Osama is still alive is that our very own CIA taught him survivalist training in Afghanistan, when the occupying force of the time were the Soviets. The reason that we are occupying Iraq is because we were stupid enough to arm Saddam years ago against the Iranians, and provide him with the ways and means to produce chemical and biological weapons. We sow our own harvest, when we leave seeds of violence in foreign fields, and we then reap the whirlwind of our foreign policies.

SH: I’m bunching Danny’s original comments together by topic, which simplifies the response.

1.I can think of other reasons why Osama is still alive:

i) We can’t corner him in Afghanistan because he can always escape across the border to Pakistan.

Short of invading Pakistan, which is impractical, we’re left to play a cat-and-mouse game with Osama when he has a backdoor.

ii) When we go after Osama, we’re going into the heart of the Muslims world. He has plenty of fellow Muslims to give him refuge.

2.Cold war policy-makers played the hand they were dealt. The threat varies from one generation to another. Each generation has its own task of risk-management.

Moving on to Danny’s major contention:


Does violence beget violence?

I made a comment about the movie Munich, and how it awakened me to the futility of retribution as a means to peace:

I suppose I see this cycle of violence as cruel in its unending circularity.

How many people think this doesn't just motivate the crazies further, and encourage their efforts to acquire serious weapons, as well as make those with access to such weapons more likely to sympathize with them and give them over?

But as we occupy foreign lands, and as Israel bombs civilians (Qana), the thread only increases. No risk is being "managed" here, fuel is only being added to the fires.

We simply cannot apply such force to terrorists, because in so doing, we invariably destroy a large number of civilians, and we turn every moderate family member of a "martyr" into willing holy war combatants in so doing. For every one we kill, we make 4 more.

What I said is that this violence is circular and unending, not that the current or present supply of willing participants in said violence is unending.

And that's the idea here--that if we make them fear, they'll not attack? No. They do not fear DEATH. How can you make someone who does not fear death fear your "overwhelming force"?

I support the right to exist of both Israel and Palestine. I also strongly oppose the policies of both. So long as each side undermines the possibility of peace by responding to violence with violence, the cycle of poverty and martyrdom will continue there.

If their hate will not dissipate even when we all sit down to talk about our basic rights to life, and our mutual commitment to ensure basic human rights and needs are protected, then perhaps at least the hate the breeds violence will. One thing is for certain -- tyranny and fear never produced a cowering populace for long: the USA, the French Revolution, and numerous civil wars are historical testimony to that fact. And the fear breeds a certain desperation which naturally dispenses violence out of survival instinct. If fear were just an emotion in a vacuum, then we would prefer it over hate. But when hate and fear combine into desperation, then violence is inevitable, and it will never end until neither side fears for their own life.

Steve's motto appears to be, "oderint dum metuant": let them hate so long as they fear (originally from Caligula). Unfortunately, fear only fuels desperate violence.

SH: Several problems here.

1.It’s true that when you fight back you may anger your adversary. Is the alternative to give up without a fight? To roll over and play dead?

2.Danny is assuming that there’s a practical alternative to self-defense.

If his alternative could work, it would work. Obviously the political will is lacking on one side or another.

3. Fear is often a very effective deterrent. Why don’t many more Americans commit many more crimes? Fear of the consequences.

Why don’t Muslim countries that hate America attack America? Fear of the consequences.

4. Suicide bombers are not afraid to die, but only a fraction of the Muslim population are suicide bombers. As I said before, most Muslims do not nurse a death-wish.

5. Both Israel and the US are only using a fraction of the force at their disposal. For example, both countries have the nuclear card.

6. In addition, it isn’t necessarily a case of us v. the Muslim world.

The Muslim world is, itself, a seething cauldron of mutual hatreds. It isn’t hard to set Muslims at each other’s throats.

Suppose we were confronted with two hostile Islamic states. Suppose the CIA were to arrange the assassination of one Muslim head-of-state, but made it look like the other Muslim country put out the hit.

We could then sit back and watch the two countries proceed to annihilate each other.

7. In fact, the CIA used to do that sort of thing during the Cold War. The problem is that many Americans have gotten soft.

The very success of past strategies has lulled many Americans into the illusory sense that we don’t need to be so ruthless.

More so with the Eurocrats, who were basking under our protective penumbra for all those years.

Well, maybe we don’t need to be as ruthless. That remains to be seen.

But what many Americans—not to mention the Eurocrats—can’t bring themselves to appreciate is that we may be up against an utterly implacable and mortal enemy for which nothing short of total war will do.

Many Americans who lived through WWII as well as the Cold War understood that.

But many of the younger generation, as the beneficiary of our past victories, are idealistic to a fault.

This also goes back to the draft-age Americans of the Vietnam era.

8.Danny talks about “tyranny” and “desperation.” What does this have reference to?

Sounds like he’s transferring the Palestinian propaganda to Iraq and Lebanon.

9.It may be that our attempt to democratize Iraq will fail. And what will that prove?

It will prove that Bush was too starry-eyed—when he should have been more cynical and calculating, like the Cold Warriors of the past.


  1. Thanks for the polite response. I am leaving for Orlando this morning and won't be able to reply until Sunday. I just wanted to mention that I saw on TV this morning a huge demonstration had assembled in Sadr City, Iraq, in which they chanted Hezbollah slogans, flew Hezbollah flags, and most in the crowd wore the white shawls symbolic of willingness to martyr ones self.

    I don't pretend to be a foreign policy expert (or an expert in anything outside of inorganic chemistry), but as a short response to your points in (6) and (7), I would ask what would give us the moral "high ground" were we to continue to employ the sorts of tactics you mention from the Cold War (and other times in US history)?

    Also, I would mention that the "enemy" we face today is not tanks, not artillery guns, not even nuclear arsenals...but ideology. We face an ideology that demands us to remove ourselves from their lands. They are pretty straightforward about it -- get the h*** out of the Middle East, and Persia, etc.

    I know that we have "interests" there outside of Israel, but quite simply, and as I said in the post, our policies have only created more and more crazies out of people that may have otherwise been moderates.

    Israel is not doing itself any favors. The ones who lost children will have revenge on Israel. They will, themselves, choose to suicide bomb a bus in Jerusalem, or sponsor someone else to do it. And then what? It's like they are just delaying the inevitable dichotomy: all-out war, ala 1967, or a final diplomatic solution in which both Israel and Palestine form secure states via compromise.

    I'll comment more at length (and more thoughtfully) when I'm not in a hurry.

  2. Trouble is, Daniel, both sides have to be prepared to compromise. And it must be 'peace with honour' or it will not be permanent peace.

    Lebanon had peace until Hezbollah decided to cross into Israel and see how far they could go until Israel reacted.

    The Palestinians could have had peace back in 2000 under Prime Minister Barak's peace plan.

    Daniel, I don't think there is a moral high ground there any more, unless the West wants to step back and say big things while doing nothing.

    As for 'get the h*** out', I fear that for Hezbollah, the land includes all of Israel.

    Say what, Daniel, can we know what your peace plan is? How we get from here to there (the Irishman when asked the way to Cork simply will not do)? Seriously, I'd like to know, that way we can know where you're coming from.

    Oh, and I'd generally agree Israel has over-reacted, trouble is, it is now in a bind. Can't pull back without encouraging Hezbollah, etc.

  3. Oh, and last time I looked, the USA is not in Persia.

  4. Steve,

    I have a comment regarding point #7, where you write:

    "But what many Americans—not to mention the Eurocrats—can’t bring themselves to appreciate is that we may be up against an utterly implacable and mortal enemy for which nothing short of total war will do.

    "Many Americans who lived through WWII as well as the Cold War understood that."

    Now that scholars have access to previously classified and unavailable documents from both the United States and other major Cold War players (e.g. Russia and China), a lot of new material has become available for study. What's surprising about the new material is that it seems the United States was quite mistaken in its assessment of Soviet aggression. Internal correspondance between Soviet leadership or other communist countries reveals a mentality that is not as aggressive as Americans perceived and generally self-preservationist in nature. Certainly there is nothing in the now-available documents to suggest that the Soviets were out to destroy America so much as to maintain their survival against a history of foreign invaders (e.g. Napoleon, Hitler). I would also argue that many of the times we painted the Soviets as aggressive and moved to intervene we really had another agenda, often economic in nature.

    Now, you might disagree with this perspective, and if you do, then my real point here might fail. But, if you're open to what I've written here, it could very well apply to the Muslim vs. American conflict of today. If we were sometimes (if not often) wrong about the aggressive nature of our Cold War opponents, then it makes sense to seriously consider that we might be misjudging a large portion of the Muslim war.

    But, of course, they could be a real mortal enemy. At least for me, time will tell.

  5. Steve,

    I was just reviewing your comments and I realize that it might be possible you didn't say that the Soviets were actually aggressive, but only suggesting that we should be as ready as the Americans were in the Cold War to go the distance required to defend against a potential mortal enemy.

    If that's the case, and I read too much into your post, I apologize.