Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
There is a powerful metaphorical wave sweeping over American culture called "denial," an unwillingness to recognize and confront unpleasant realities.
While there is, and always has been, a portion of the American public that struthious-like puts its head in the sand, I am persuaded that the size and scope of this population is increasing. In part this is due to the frivolous nature of media presentations, the "amusing yourself to death syndrome," and in part it is due to the potential horror associated with nuclear weapons and the consequence of Armageddon.
The manifest form of this phenomenon is evident on many fronts.
With Russian tanks rolling into Georgia clearly violating the rights of a sovereign nation, State Department officials, according to New York Times reports, argued that President Mikheil Saakashvilli was counseled against challenging Russian dissidents in South Ossetia. The implicit point is that Saakaskvilli was responsible for the invasion, not Putin, despite the obvious fact Russian tanks were poised on the border for days waiting for the green light from the Russian leader.
Second, notwithstanding claims from Osama bin Laden, Sheik Omar, Ahmadinejad, and a host of others with radical sentiments who have declared war on the United States and acted on those claims by killing American civilians and soldiers, there are many who claim we are not in a real war, but a police action that does not require the mobilization of forces. These are the proponents of "soft power," i.e., negotiation as the response to suicide bombers and violent attacks.
Third, a transfer of unprecedented wealth is taking place with more than $750 billion going to the OPEC nations annually in return for their oil. To add insult to injury, some unknown proportion of this money is designed to fuel terrorism and promote anti-American sentiment across the globe. Yet when the Congress has the opportunity to address this matter, admittedly at the margin, by drilling for oil in ANWAR or off-shore, the environmentalists contend we haven't any right to interfere with the mating habits of the caribou in Alaska or contaminate beach front properties in Florida and California (even though there isn't evidence to support this position).
Fourth, so enamored are the spokespeople at NBC with the Olympic events in China that they have inadvertently or intentionally lost sight of the dictatorship that is a backdrop for these athletic contests. China has created a Potemkin Village in Beijing that seems to generate nothing but awe from Western observers. Crimes of oppression against Tibet and the Falun Gung are seemingly overlooked in the seizure of "good feeling and harmony."
Last, and arguably most significantly, the blame America crowd that sees conspiracies everywhere and attributes grandiloquent power to the CIA -- if only that were true -- overlook national achievements and concentrates solely on blemishes and mistakes. Using the language of the moment for this group, these aren't governmental mistakes, only dissimulation.
For the BAC (Blame America Crowd) the United States is a force for evil that imperializes helpless nations for its own benefit. That the U.S. is the only hope for mankind, a beacon of light for the expression of liberty, is what the BAC would call a well-integrated myth that perpetuates the present unholy system. This form of denial runs deep and is, based on my experience, impenetrable.
The problem with this tsunami of denial is that these are real issues that require national resolve and confidence. First, of course, we must recognize the challenges squarely and then we should mobilize the determination to do something about them. But if we refuse to identify the problems and are unable to generate the will, America will be lost in a fog of inaction. There is a price one pays for denial; it is the price of defeat. That consequence should never be forgotten.
D-Day for Israel
D-day is just over the horizon for Israel. Either it decides to attack the Iranian installations where uranium enrichment is proceeding apace or it lives with an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them.
Timing is critical since the Iranians are about to install sophisticated Russian radars and missile ground-to-air defenses that will make penetration of Iranian airspace very problematic.
Those who argue that deterrence will work dismiss Ahmadinejad's rhetoric as empty rants. They contend that the mullahs are basically sensible and realize that Armageddon is not in anyone's interest. While nuclear weapons will give Iran hegemonic leadership in the Middle East, proponents of deterrence claim the "bomb" is a political instrument that offers cover for surrogate terrorists such as Hezbollah, but is not weapon of preemption.
Those who argue for a military assault, on the other hand, contend that Ahmadinejad's comments cannot be taken lightly. He has vowed to "wipe Israel off the map" and he indicated that a conflagration precedes the return of the twelfth Mahdi to Earth. While so-called moderates in Iran have tried to provide private assurance that these words aren't representative of the government, Ahmadinejad has not been repudiated by the mullahs in the Leadership Council.
Moreover, very recently Iranian Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashai said:
The Islamic Republic of Iran did not, does not, and will not recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist entity. No Iranian citizen or party will ever accept this.
Is this incendiary comment to be taken at face value? Or, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say, can this comment be ignored when Iran possesses nuclear weapons?
Of course, the costs and benefits on both sides of this strategic ledger also have to be addressed. For "the deterrence only" crowd an Iran with nuclear weapons will be acknowledged as a regional leader. Even Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt would attempt to cut a deal in order to avoid conflict. A nuclear weapon would also mean that Iranian surrogates, namely Hezbollah and even Sunni-led Hamas, could expand their terroristic activity with the "bomb" looming as a brake on their adversaries.
While European leaders have offered many "carrots" for the cessation of the Iranian nuclear program, Iran does possess missiles with sufficient range to reach every European capital. Would extortion enter the political equation if Iran is in possession of nuclear weapons?
The "attack now" crowd maintains that Iran is a threat to regional stability and possibly a threat to Europe. As Senator McCain has noted "the only thing worse than bombing Iran is Iran with the bomb." There is no doubt, however, that this stance has many risks.
Iran is capable of closing the Gulf of Hormuz that could increase oil prices to $300 a barrel and might create a worldwide depression. It is also likely that Iran would retaliate against American troops in Iraq and Israel with chemical and biological weapons unless its second strike capability is neutralized. There is also the issue of collateral damage and world opinion. Clearly Israel and American detractors will seize on any attack as yet another example of U.S. imperial ambitions, even if the attack is conducted unilaterally by Israel.
Since these are "life and death" questions for Israel, glib assertions won't do. If the attack does occur, it would have to be a near perfect assault to thwart retaliation. If it doesn't occur, Israel would be forced to enhance its nuclear delivery system and prepare for an attenuated war with Hezbollah and Hamas on two fronts with the distinct possibility Arab states would be emboldened to join Iran in attempting to wipe Israel off the map.
Difficult choices and ominous events await the future. For Israel, the inexorable movement of history goes on whether it acts or refuses to act.
The Chinese Olympic Mask
Many Chinese who have entered the ranks of the middle class are fond of collecting masks made of porcelain or jade. Having observed the Olympic events in Beijing, I am not surprised by this fetish, for what one sees in these Chinese-sponsored Olympics is a mask that conceals an unpleasant reality.
From fireworks that were artfully computerized at the opening ceremony, even though they weren't real, to the ages of gymnasts that are falsified, and the faux singer who merely looked like the right Chinese representative, these Olympics [were] a well-rehearsed Chinese mask. Or should it be described as a Chinese Potemkin Village? Clearly China wants to create a global impression as an emerging economic power, not unlike Germany in the 1936 Olympics and the Soviet Union in 1980. And with few exceptions, NBC spokespeople, inured to politically correct commentary, have been complicit.
It is instructive that a description of the "twenty-year-old" captain of the women's gymnastic team informed the viewing audience that she was taken from her home, and brought to a training facility after having been identified as a prospective Olympic athlete. After a year, she wanted to return to her family, but was told her training is for the greater glory of China and she must constrain her adolescent nostalgia for hearth and home. This story was related without the slightest hint of criticism.
Compare the ebullient, youthful American gymnastic team that embraced after every event, shouted encouragement and consoled teammates who didn't perform well, with the almost automaton-like Chinese girls who feigned smiles and could barely conceal their fear of failure.
I am reminded that the Olympic tradition is based on amateur sports with the Latin root of amateur being love. But the athletes from China and other dictatorial nations are not amateurs (neither, of course, are American basketball players) and few display love of the games which was the initial purpose behind them.
Now the Olympics are a political spectacle designed for effect. The athletes are mere pawns, somewhat like actors, in a staged event for the delectation of viewers. Surely there are spectacular moments such as Michael Phelps' medals and the performance of the men's relay swim teams. But on the whole, there is too much that is formulaic and staged. Any sport where judges decide the quality of performance enters the cauldron of political judgment.
Clearly the Chinese hoped to influence world opinion with these games. But what the Olympic mask concealed is as notable as what it revealed. Demonstrators were rounded up and in several instances beaten by baton-bashing Chinese police officers. Tibetan sympathizers were mistreated from the outset. And with all the hoopla, China comes across as a gray, joyless society, notwithstanding occasional spurts of enthusiasm from fans. Even the attendance figures are fraudulent as the number of empty seats in the stadium and gyms attest.
It has been argued that the Olympics should transcend politics. In fact, I agree. Yet it is notable that IOC (International Olympic Committee) is politicized. There is no escaping the reality that these Chinese Olympics were designed as and for a political agenda.
Whether the public will buy the idea that China is a world power poised to lead the global community in the 21st century remains to be seen. On one matter, however, there isn't any doubt: The Chinese mask offers the world only what it wants you to see. Once the mask is removed much of what you observe is false, misleading and manipulated.
Bipolar Foreign Policy Theory
Tom Farer, the dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, has written a new book Confronting Global Terrorism and American Neo-Conservatism: The Framework of a Liberal Grand Strategy. In this book a strategy, or what the author calls a new narrative, is depicted for future strategic analysis. But first the author limns a dichotomous model of neo-conservative and liberal assumptions.
For example, neo-conservatives are consequentialists and liberals are essentialists. By this he infers that neo-cons believe the ends justify the means and liberals believe some means should never be employed whatever the ends may be.
He contends further that neo-cons see virtue in war while liberals do not. Neo-cons are reticent to engage in the self-examination of their policies, liberals, by contrast, return to first principles continually. Neo-cons oppose the constraints on foreign policy imposed by the UN Charter, liberals embrace these constraints. Liberals are multilateralists, neo-cons unilateralists.
I think you can get my drift and surely you can get Professor Farer's drift. Notwithstanding the obvious bias, this model demonstrates the futility of political modeling based on a bipolar universe.
The essential problem is that the prototypes are caricatures. I do not know a neo-con who sees virtue in war even if he sees virtue in heroism. I do not know a neo-con who ignores means and concentrates solely on ends.
I do know neo-cons who have engaged in virtually endless examination and reexamination of policies they promoted (Douglas Feith's new book is a good example). I do know neo-cons who favor multilateralism (Does George W. Bush qualify?). And while many neo-cons are skeptical about the UN as a body to promote peace and harmony, many would adhere to a charter that allows for "anticipatory self-defense," as the UN Charter does.
Of course, this is a transparent set-up. The liberals are the hope for the future with a narrative for multilateralism and cooperation. The neo-cons are the voice of a failed past based on a muscular and poorly thought through strategy.
But is it enough to generate a foreign policy through a new narrative? Are there existential threats that defy categorization? Suppose Iran does not respond affirmatively to the new narrative which calls for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and an Israeli peace treaty with the Palestinians that returns to the 1967 borders. Suppose as well that Iran acquires nuclear weapons and uses them as cover for the actions of Hezbollah or to threaten the state of Israel. What then? When is war an option? And when does the dichotomous scenario cease to have meaning?
Professor Farer would probably maintain a prompter hoc argument. Well, if we had a different narrative, the conditions you depict would not occur. But what if they do?
Trollope, in his novel The Prime Minister, wrote there are times when events are "saved from the examination of principles." There are times as well when events transcend or defy models. There are times when the biological need for self-preservation trumps liberal ideals.
Clearly bipolar analysis can be an interesting guide, but it is rarely a useful guide. The world is not merely good and bad, black and white, big and small; it is often a composite of good and bad, gray and medium.
The model that reflects a bias is throat clearing for a cause. The tocsin of war rarely accommodates theoretical propositions. As Samuel Johnson noted about a hanging, war tends to focus the mind.
Islamic Intimidation and the Random House Fiasco
The force of intimidation will not rest. So powerful is the threat of Islamic violence that another book has been yanked from public distribution by cowardly publishers.
Sherry Jones' The Jewel of Medina was due to be published on August 12 by Random House, a unit of Bertelsmann AG. This novel traces the life of A'isha, the child bride of Mohammed, from the time of her marriage at age 6 until the prophet's death. But since the book was regarded as potentially offensive "to some in the Muslim community" its publication was postponed indefinitely.
It is paradoxical that Ms. Jones contends that her book is an attempt at bridge building and is consciously respectful of Islam and Mohammed. However, as Thomas Perry, representative of the publisher, said in a public comment [the book]:
. . . could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment. In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.
Obviously Mr. Perry, without saying so, was referring tacitly to the protests that erupted in Muslim countries in 2006 when cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed in an unfavorable light appeared in a Danish newspaper, leading to the deaths of more than 50 people.
In 1988 Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses was greeted with riots across the Muslim world forcing the author into hiding for several years after Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed a fatwa against him.
It is instructive that Ms. Jones argues Mohammed and A'isha shared a great love story, albeit one wonders what kind of love a six-year-old can possibly have with a middle-aged man. As the Hadith points out she was Mohammed's favorite wife; in fact, "he died with his head on her breast."
Whether this novel romantizes this relationship or condemns it as a form of pedophilia is somewhat irrelevant. What counts is that in this land where the First Amendment has been defended with blood and treasure, free expression is being compromised through intimidation.
The argument employed by some Islamists is that their sacred doctrines and prophet are being vilified by Western critics who do not fully appreciate Muslim tradition and faith. While there is some logic in this claim, Islamists do not have the slightest hesitation in the condemnation of Christianity as polytheism, or Judaism as a religion of monkeys and pigs. Presumably what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.
Most significantly, free speech and open expression which characterize Western democracies are rarely, if ever, manifest in Islamic nations. Hence criticism, even valid scholarly criticism, of Mohammed and the religion he founded is never entertained.
That an American publisher with the extraordinary pedigree of Random House should succumb to the conditions in the Muslim world is truly astounding. It illustrates the fact that even our most cherished traditions are under assault and that bullies threatening violence or, at any rate capable of violence, can close the proverbial door on open discourse.
It is not merely the suspension of one book that troubles me, but the chilling influence of violent intimidation in every aspect of American life. If this self-censorship continues the United States will become a different nation and the tradition of liberty we so value will be a distant memory.
What will it take to summon the will to resist the Islamic threats? And where is the courage Americans put on display throughout our history? It is indeed time to respond by saying to Random House and every other publisher, "issue the book you wish and the nation will defend your right to do so." Any other response smacks of cowardice and surrender. *
"Many are destined to reason wrongly; others, not to reason at all; and others to persecute those who do reason." -Voltaire
We would like to thank the following people for their generous contributions in support of this journal (from 7/1/08 to 9/12/08): Ariel, Reid S. Barker, E. O. Barlow, Douglas W. Barr, Harry S. Barrows, Bud & Carol Belz, Charles Benscheidt, Charles L. Blilie, Erminio Bonacci, Mitzi A. Brown, Patrick J. Buchanan, Robert M. Buchta, Priscilla L. Buckley, Dino Casali, Cliff Chambers, W. Edward Chynoweth, William D. Collingwood, Robert Day, Dianne C. DeBoest, Robert M. Ducey, Nicholas Falco, Joseph C. Firey, Nansie Lou Follen, Reuben M. Freitas, Donald G. Galow, Jane F. Gelderman, Mr. & Mrs. Lee E. Goewey, Joseph H. Grant, Bernhard Heersink, H. Ray Hodges, John A. Howard, Thomas E. Humphreys, Burleigh Jacobs, O. Guy Johnson, Robert R. Johnson, Louise H. Jones, Janet King, Edward B. Kiolbassa, Reuben A. Larson, Alan Lee, Donald G. Lee, Leonard S. Leganza, Eric Lihof, Herbert London, Francis P. Markoe, Curtis Dean Mason, Roberta R. McQuade, Woodbridge C. Metcalf, Walter M. Moede, John Nickolaus, David Norris, King Odell, Harold Olson, B. William Pastoor, Mr. & Mrs. Mark Richter, Matthew J. Sawyer Richard P. Schonland, Harry Richard Schumache, Joseph M. Simonet, Charles B. Stevenson, Clifford W. Stone, Dennis J. Sullivan, Michael S. Swisher, Julian Tonning, Alan Rufus Waters, Eugene & Diane Watson, Gaylord T. Willett, Piers Woodriff.