Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial, published by Lexington Books, and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
The Futility of the Third Way in the War Against Islamic Terror
Based on the violent Islamic reaction to Pope Benedict's Regensberg speech, it should be apparent that despite dozens of analyses claiming that some form of negotiation with al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the mullahs in Iran, and radical Islamists generally is possible, actions reveal a different story. "If only Israel were more accommodating;" "if only the United States would withdraw its troops from the Middle East," these negotiate first types contend. After all, isn't "jaw jaw" better than "war war"?
What this position conspicuously overlooks is that there isn't a third way in the emerging global conflict. There are two stark choices: appease the terrorists or fight them. In fact, Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, admitted the utter futility of negotiation when he said,
The Jews love life so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win because they love life and we love death.
If, as appears transparently clear, the goal of terrorist organizations is to destroy liberal, tolerant societies and replace them with a rigid theocratic dictatorship that enforces Islamic law, there isn't anything to discuss. There isn't any common ground between their vision and ours. As one mullah noted along the lines of Nasrallah's statement: "We are not trying to exact concessions from you. We are trying to eliminate you."
It is understandable that Western governments seek to avoid conflict. They want to persuade the electorate that war can be offset by reasonable exchanges. Yet it is abundantly clear that any effort at negotiation is one-sided. There is nothing the terrorist wants except complete and unconditional submission by "the infidels."
Since it is hard to come to grips with this intolerance in basically tolerant societies, leaders in the West engage in a verbal minuet. They assert religious freedom for all, or freedom of expression, even when preachers of hate encourage murder and provide succor for terrorism.
For example, the British government introduced the Terrorist Act of 2006 in direct response to the 7/7 rail and bus attacks. Yet the provisions of this act, which were intended to prosecute those who would glorify acts of terror, has not been applied to Islamist preachers who stated that the murders on July 7, 2005 "raised the banner [for] jihad in the UK, which means it is allowed for suicide bombers to attack" and non-Muslims should be converted or killed: "Capture them and besiege them and prepare for an ambush from every angle." One mullah insisted that those murdered in the grisly attack were as "kuffar" or non-Muslims, "animals and cowards."
By failing to act against those who make these outlandish comments, governments perpetuate and encourage the vitriol. It was the failure to act decisively in the first place that allowed Islamic terrorism to gain a foothold in the West. The continued reluctance to prosecute only exacerbates the mortal danger we face.
I am reminded of Yeats' words in "The Second Coming:" "The best lack of conviction, while the worst/are full of passionate intensity." Those who slumber in the procedural nuances of democratic chambers must marshal the requisite fire to oppose and defeat ruthless, uncompromising spiritual fanatics. As long as the legal apparatus in the West allows jihadists to flourish, we are planting the seeds of our own destruction.
Can we revive the moral fiber necessary to defeat this implacable enemy? Will the public arise as one indignantly arguing that leaders must do whatever is necessary to thwart home-grown fanatics? Can we pursue the war on terror with the same conviction and robustness of World War II?
The answer to the questions lies in the future and the future of our civilization lies in the answer.
Why the U.S. Is Silent
According to Noah Feldman, professor of law at NYU, writing in the New York Times 10/1/06, there is a rational case to be made for the United States to negotiate with its enemies ("Why Not Talk?"). After all, he notes, our allies are already engaged in negotiations, despite the absence of the United States.
"What's the point of not talking, especially when others are talking for us?" he asks. It is instructive that Professor Feldman answers this question quite effectively even though he doesn't adjust his conclusion for his own logic. He writes,
. . . some enemies--a Hitler or a Pol Pot--may be so repugnant that the mere prospect of reaching a compromise with them would violate our deepest moral principles. The only time it would be right to hear them out is when they are proposing to surrender.
Alas, that is precisely why negotiations with the present assemblage of enemies isn't possible. Given their intractable position and hatred of the United States, compromise is impossible, as is rational discourse. Sheik Nasrallah stated the enemy's stance blatantly when he said,
Death to America is not a slogan. Death to America is a policy, a strategy and a vision.
If this is the starting point, on what basis is negotiation possible?
And yet, says Feldman, "even intractable interlocutors may be worth engaging." Here is the diplomat's calling card--better to jaw, jaw than war, war. While diplomacy has its place, it is also true that negotiations offer legitimacy to tyrants; formal talk provides a basis for the status-quo.
In Iran, for example, it is probably true that most people resent Ahmadinejad and the mullahs. Pro-democracy movements are at a delicate stage of development. What they need is assurance that the United States stands behind their effort at regime change.
Feldman contends that diplomacy led incrementally to the integration of Western Europe, a dubious contention, but one that reinforces the validity of diplomacy. The analogy of Western Europe and Iran, however, is absurd since the mullahs are driven by a religious impulse to imperialize the region, destroy Israel ("wipe it off the map") and then consider war against the infidels. As Ahmadinejad has noted, Israel is the appetizer; the U.S. is the main course.
Our refusal to speak to the enemy may have its negative side but, on balance, silence in the face of a morally repugnant tyranny is much to be preferred, in my judgment. The problem the U.S. has at the moment is that many Americans either do not recognize the moral repugnance of the enemy or they believe--having been brainwashed by Hollywood inspired anti-Americanism--that the U.S. is the immoral actor on the world stage.
Feldman contends we need a diplomatic "breakthrough," a point with which I agree. But in the case of Iran, the Europeans have offered every "carrot" the mind can conjure from Airbus planes and money to nuclear energy plants if only the Iranian government will cease its enrichment of uranium as a first step for nuclear weapons development. Is there more we could offer?
Moreover, this scenario is beginning to resemble the Munich Accord of 1936 with European diplomats sounding eerily like Neville Chamberlain. Will Israel serve as the Sudetenland of 2006? The West bends over backwards to avoid conflict--an understandable stance--but in the end respect and flexibility will emerge in Iran when the things the government values are put at risk.
Diplomacy does involve a carrot and a stick. So far European diplomacy is all carrots and no sticks. Perhaps that is a good reason for American silence. We should, as T. R. once said, "speak softly, but carry a big stick." I would argue silence on our part is justified until the European diplomatic initiative runs its course and stalemate is the result, which I'm confident will be the case.
Feldman ends his piece by noting, "In an ideological age, diplomacy may seem weak and prosaic. But sometimes it is all we have." I suspect Churchill, among others, would strongly disagree.
Intimidation and Preemptive Surrender in the West
Some might call it preemptive surrender, others describe it as appeasement, and still others refer to this condition as falling prey to intimidation. However one describes this phenomenon, it is clear the West is fast becoming overwhelmed by the force of Islam.
Two recent events reinforce this conclusion.
The Media Research Center issued a September 2006 report entitled: "The Media vs. The War on Terror," in which it is pointed out that in general the media leaders are far more interested in exposing tactics that may undermine American civil liberties than in addressing tactics for defeating Islamic radicals.
For example, most of the network coverage of Guantanamo focused on the rights of captured terrorists or allegations that they were mistreated or abused. Network reporters portrayed the inmates as "victims," yet not one report about Guantanamo prisoners included commentary from the genuine victims of 9/11, family members who lost a loved one.
Most network stories cast the NSA's terrorist surveillance program as either legally dubious or illegal. ABC, CBS, and NBC were five times more likely to showcase experts who criticize the NSA's surveillance program than supporters.
At the end of September Berlin's Deutsche Opera removed the staging of a Mozart opera from its schedule for fear of enraging Muslims, opera house officials said.
Hans Neuenfel's production of "Idomeneo," a 1781 drama set in ancient Crete, was cancelled because opera authorities felt it presented an "incalculable security risk." In the staging King Idomeneo presents the lopped-off heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha, and the Prophet Mohammed and displays them on chairs.
Some critics viewed the show as a radical attack on religion, all religions. But music director Kirsten Harms decided that the staging would be regarded as an insult to Muslims which could result in "danger to the audience or staff," since Islam considers images of the prophet as blasphemous.
Consider the following conditions. Suppose al Jazeera ran programs that described violent tactics employed by Jihadists. Suppose as well that the music director at the Egyptian Opera House chose to promote a production with a pro-American and pro-Israeli theme. So farfetched are these possibilities that they cannot be seriously entertained.
Yet here is the issue. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander. Intimidation has changed the cultural calculus in the West. As notable, there isn't any sense of reciprocity.
We accept this form of intimidation and appeasement. It is now a cultural given. By contrast, we also expect intolerance from the Islamic world.
It was instructive that Pope Benedict's speech, which quoted from a medieval text that said the teaching of the Prophet Mohammed was "evil and inhuman," sparked Muslim anger. What Jihadists were saying in effect is if you say we're intolerant, we will intimidate you with intolerant tactics.
But where is the West's resolve? Why should we stand by or be complicit in this form of intimidation?
The debate in the future is not over a decision to cancel a performance or whether one has the right to challenge a president. Of course, both should be possible. The real question is do we have what it takes to stand up to the intimidators and assert a defense of our way of life. Recent events give one pause.
Former President Carter and His Middle East Views
It is one thing when Lebanon's prime minister Fouad Siniora calls Israel "a savage war machine." After all, he's now in the grip of Hezbollah domination. It is hardly surprising when Human Rights Watch, increasingly anti-Zionist, releases a study in which Israel's bombing "cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hezbollah practices." But when former President Carter told a German newspaper that Israel was not justified in bombing and invading Lebanon and Gaza, the mind boggles.
"I don't think that Israel has any legal or moral justification for their (sic) massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon," Carter told Der Spiegel. "What happened," noted Carter,
. . . is that Israel is holding almost 10,000 prisoners, so when the militants in Lebanon or in Gaza take one or two soldiers, Israel looks upon this as a justification for an attack on the civilian population of Lebanon and Gaza. I do not think that's justified.
That isn't all. Carter also criticized President Bush for not having attempted "in the last six years" to negotiate a peace settlement between the Israelis and their neighbors.
One might excuse these contentious comments or attribute them to the inexorable aging process were they not so morally obtuse and historically inaccurate.
Let's start with the prisoner question. Those held captive in Israel are terrorists who tried to subvert the Israeli government or engage in the murder of Israeli citizens. How can they be compared in any way to IDF soldiers who would never even contemplate intentionally killing innocent civilians and would be court marshaled if there was evidence to support such acts?
Second, Israel bombed civilian areas in Lebanon because these were areas from which missiles were fired. In fact, notwithstanding Human Rights Watch claims to the contrary, Israel did everything in its power to restrict collateral damage. By contrast, Hezbollah fired rockets and missiles into the center of Haifa without regard for the lives that were put in jeopardy.
Third, President Carter conspicuously avoids any mention of the Hezbollah rocket attacks that preceded and precipitated the war. In reading his remarks, one could easily arrive at the conclusion he believes Israel started the bombing for its own strategic advantage.
Fourth, it is astounding that Carter is unaware of the relentless efforts of the Bush administration to fashion a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. For years, the Bush team has enunciated a "two state" solution for the area and in 2002 the president unfurled a road map--embraced by both Abu Mazen and Ariel Sharon for the resolution of differences. Was Carter simply asleep during this period or is he so filled with partisan venom, he cannot recognize President Bush's desire?
Fifth, Mr. Carter overlooks the obvious fact that Israel unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon and Gaza. However, the former president chooses to characterize these moves, they were painstaking for Israel and had the unintended effect of emboldening terrorists.
This is not the first time the Nobel Peace Prize recipient has made foolish and myopic statements, nor is this likely to be the last such occasion. But when Carter describes events in the Middle East, his reaction is invariably anti-Israel. In fact, in a series of self-deprecating comments at last year's Herzilya conference, Carter seemed to admit to his bias, albeit the remarks were aimed at "territorial balance."
In Carter's mind balance is equating Israel's right to exist with the terrorists' "right" to destroy.
Fortunately for the United States, Carter is no longer president. That, however, does not stop journalists from giving him a platform and taking his misguided views seriously. Surely the blind man cannot see; but as long as he has a tongue, he can still speak.
I would urge those who hear the former president's words to not take them that seriously. As Edward Teller once said about a colleague's fatuous claims, "since he is an intelligent man, I can only assume that he's kibitzing."
Flags of Our Fathers
"Flags of Our Fathers," a film directed and produced by Clint Eastwood has already been proclaimed "an American masterpiece" and "a monumental film." If my guess is correct it will be a film that receives several Oscar nominations and will once again place Mr. Eastwood in the pantheon of Hollywood heroes.
But as I see it "Flags of Our Fathers" is yet another cynical attempt to demythologize American glory and achievement. Yet, the battlefield scenes have the quality of verisimilitude. The grisly deaths and suffering have the touch of reality evoking moments of disgust. Iwo Jima is clutched from the pages of history and made unbelievably real.
That said, there is much else in this film that paints a different picture. The placement of the flag on Mount Suribachi is a moment that reflects American success in the war against Japan. What screen writers William Broyles and Paul Haggis contend is that it was staged. Since the first flag was taken down so that a government official could have it, the scene of several soldiers lifting the flag, a scene etched in the pages of the war, was an artifice, a false event. Moreover, since the faces of these men weren't shown, it wasn't clear who was actually in the photograph.
And so like Washington cutting down the cherry tree, the flag raising at Mount Suribachi becomes a debunked myth. But Eastwood isn't satisfied with that goal. He is eager to contrast the suffering of men on the battlefield with the exploitive behavior of hucksters on the home front. The innocent young men are pawns used to elicit public sympathy for the war effort. Once again Hollywood surrenders to the belief that America will sacrifice any principle for that bitch goddess Mammon. How ironic that this has become a Hollywood staple.
The tortured, guilt-ridden soldiers become national heroes transplanted from a ditch in a volcanic island to the heights of national admiration. But they recognize what the insensitive brass and a sheltered Harry Truman does not: the real heroes lie as corpses buried in ash and debris.
Eastwood makes the claim that these men didn't die for country; they died for their mates; comradeship brings a more compelling virtue than patriotism. Whether this clich is true is in some sense beside the point. Those men who shed their blood for America saved this nation from totalitarian fascism. Not once is that point made in the film.
The Japanese force on Iwo Jima fought bravely, perhaps fanatically, but what these troops represented was a threat to American democracy. My guess is the U.S. forces didn't express their fighting spirit by relying on patriotism, but in their guts they knew what they were fighting for. Of course, public relations types were enlisted to sell the war. These are the people who are the target of Eastwood's invective. The war, however, was just and necessary and preserved American society with all its flaws.
It has been said that Clint Eastwood took to heart a line from a John Ford Western: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But Eastwood has actually done the opposite; he destroys the legend. He muddies flag waving sentiment and, in the process, attempts to undermine the need for heroes and models of emulation. The movie's emotional heart is the Ira Hayes character, a Pima Indian from Arizona who suffers from racist comments at the same time he was hailed as a hero. He eventually drank himself to death anonymously on an Indian reservation.
In the key scene in the film, the three unlikely heroes are asked to climb a papier mch model of Mount Suribachi in Soldier Field Chicago and raise an American flag. They know this exercise is a ruse. Riddled with guilt, they do so reluctantly waving wanly to a cheering crowd as fireworks fill the sky. Eastwood clobbers his viewer over the head with this faux moment, an embarrassing scene compared to the reality of blood-soaked Iwo Jima. Yet it was a necessary step in generating support for the war, notwithstanding the director's cynicism.
Wars are won because young men sacrifice their lives, but wars are also won because the public supports them. For the public, legends count. Those who puncture legends as if they are soap bubbles, don't understand how destructive this process can be.
More Financial Legerdemain at the UN
Revelations about financial abuse seem to haunt the United Nations. From misuse of funds to the gigantic draw down of the Oil for Food program, corruption grips the international organization from the Secretariat's office to the General Assembly.
Emerging full blown as yet another potential scandal is the plan to renovate and expand the UN. The plan under consideration calls for the renovation of 2.5 million square feet of the UN facility, which real estate moguls say consists of 60 percent office space that may be in need of renovation and 40 percent for the space representing garages, storage facilities, basements and sub-basements, etc. If one removes the 40 percent non-office space and assumes a high end $200 a square foot for renovation costs, the total expense for renovation should be about $300 million.
New space for expansion is estimated to be 900,000 square feet. Assume $300 a square foot for new construction, which I am informed by those in the know, to be a high end cost estimate, the total for expansion construction would be $270 million. Allowing for an additional respectable sum of say, $30 million for the existing non-office space deferred maintenance and cost contingencies on the new construction, the total cost for both the renovation and the new construction using high end estimates would total $600 million.
Now let's examine United Nations renovation and new construction estimates. The newly announced UN plan calls for $1.9 billion for renovation and $900 million for new construction for a total of $2.8 billion, a sum Senator Schumer says is "essential" for the UN building in distress.
If you deduct the $600 million from the UN estimate--which is a lavish sum by any reasonable real estate standard--you are left with $2.2 billion of "wasteful expense." Someone of course will benefit from these unnecessarily expended billions.
Since the United States taxpayers pay 22 percent of UN bills, that means that in this financial scenario the United States is being bilked to the tune of $484 million. This roughly half a billion dollar taxpayer overcharge to Americans would increase dramatically as the UN, predictably, will encounter cost overruns.
Is it any wonder that Donald Trump said he would do the entire project for $700 million? Even if he employed the lavish cost structure I outlined, he would still walk away from the completed project with $100 million.
Questions abound. Who came up with these estimates? Were they reviewed by UN officials? Who gets the vigorish in this deal? Who are the builders and how were they chosen? Did anyone in Congress look carefully at the UN plan? Where is Condi Rice? Who has Kofi Annan been talking to in the New York real estate world? Why doesn't someone take Donald Trump up on his challenge?
School children from all over the country make a pilgrimage to the United Nations. Well meaning teachers tell their students this enterprise was built to bring about world peace. Of course the words are a deception.
The UN has become a scam, a place where anti-American sentiment is promoted at the major expense of the American taxpayer. With renovation and expansion plans unfolding at a rapid pace, the scam gets even more bold and daring. UN officials will now waste billions on their mind-numbing plan.
Surely it is time for Americans to wake up and say, "we won't take it any more." If expansion or renovation is needed, then use the construction cost estimates based on the elite high rises on the upper east side of Manhattan. What is good enough for New York millionaires should be good enough for UN officials.
When Mark Mallock Brown, Deputy Secretary of the UN, said recently Middle America doesn't understand the UN, he has a point. Most Americans cannot afford office space at UN prices, nor are they easily taken for a real estate ride. In fact, most Americans are simply not in a position to spend other peoples' money on unnecessary expenditures.
Corruption, thy name is the United Nations. *
"Public affairs go on pretty much as usual: perpetual chicanery and rather more personal abuse than there used to be. . . . Our American Chivalry is the worst in the world. It has no Laws, no bounds, no definitions; it seems to be all a Caprice." --John Adams