Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin
Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.
We were flabbergasted when, having asked a reader how he liked this column, he replied that he never looked at it because he didn't read the magazines discussed. "But that was the whole point!" we screamed, wrestling him to the ground and reaching for his throat. We are trying to acquaint readers with the universe of conservative thought, trying to enrich their knowledge. After all, we don't have a monopoly of conservative ideas, and it never hurt anyone to know more. We stopped strangling the reader after he promised to read the column, and now we shall try to fulfill our promise by writing at length about only a few articles in three magazines, rather than covering several publications superficially.
The Claremont Review of Books (a magazine that's steadily improving) prints two essays in its fall issue under the collective title: "Ten Years After 9/11, the Burden of Failed Strategy." The first, by Mark Helprin, "The Central Proposition," is built around that idea - that we could transform the Arab Middle East. In the first few paragraphs he summarizes the history of the last 10 years: initial military victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by the decision to reform them; the worsening of the situation under President Obama; jettisoning allies and appeasing enemies; concluding that [the goal of] "transformation, nation-building, enlightenment - rests upon a negligent and superficial interpretation of history." Since the post-1945 transformations of Germany and Japan are often invoked, Helprin shows that they were totally and stunningly defeated, occupied by millions of troops, quite without allies or friendly borders. If colonial history is invoked, he points out that this was conditioned by advanced technology, organization, and discipline, "surging with the confidence of newly ascendant nations . . . white hot while the rest of the world was at rest." Of course, that is not the case today, far from it. He shows at some length the hostility and intractability of Islam. His own prescription: we should have attacked Iraq with much more power, installed compliant officials after a quick victory, turned on Syria, installed another compliant regime, and retreated to our secure Saudi base where we could keep a watchful eye on the region. He ends with a warning of a greater danger: China.
Anthony Codevilla's essay, "The Lost Decade," is longer, more comprehensive, and much more deeply critical, indicting what he calls the bipartisan ruling class for the same delusion Helprin cites: that we could transform the Arab Middle East, and failing to make the basic foreign policy distinction between regimes respectful of American interests and those antagonistic to us. So we appease China and Russia, inviting their open scorn, so we allow Iranians to kill our soldiers in Iraq, showing our impotence, and we have allowed Arab countries since the 1970s to "run educational and media systems that demonize America," insisting that we should have held those regimes responsible for the actions of their citizens, with the veiled threat of our overthrowing them if they failed to comply. He indicts the Homeland Security regime, based as it is on the assumption that it is "impossible to distinguish ordinary Americans from terrorists," just as the ruling class "went out of its way to appease the most unfriendly parts of America's tiny Islamic population . . . forcing ordinary Americans to wonder if the ruling class is on its side." There is more, but we have shown enough to make readers understand the author's argument.
Both essays seem intelligent and plausible to us, but the question of their realism bothers us. Take, for example, Codevilla's point about our tolerance of the anti-Americanism of Arab regimes: we have been reading analyses and denunciations of this policy for over 30 years, a policy epitomized by President Obama's antagonism toward Israel and partiality to its enemies, policy so wrongheaded as to be simply astounding, but nothing changes, no one in government admits how stupid our policy is and has been for years. Perhaps Codevilla's vehemence and passion is a gauge of his frustration at a situation that seems irremediable. Can any of us imagine the government pursing the course Helprin or Codevilla recommend? It is a failure of perception that is breathtaking. To read these essays, to understand their sense, is to see how far we were from taking the right steps over the past decade, and this is very depressing news indeed. But it is something we need to know.
National Affairs continues to confound us with its ups and downs. Its fall issue is largely ho-hum, but there's a piece by Peter Skerry, "The Muslim American Muddle," that's not only first-rate, but is, so far as we know, unique in conservative publications. Nowhere have we read such a thorough, nuanced description and analysis of Muslim organizations in America. Avoiding both the innocuous gloss put on by the right-thinking people and their media minions, as well as the alarmist views of some populist zealots, Skerry, who has evidently spent years researching the subject, sketches a complex picture of these groups. The first point is the populations' diversity, with religious, racial, and ethnic differences so widespread as to make speaking of a typical Muslim-American community absurd. Then there is the issue of the varying degrees of assimilation of the different groups. Skerry explains dilemmas faced by Muslims who are urged to stay close to the Muslim way of life at the same time that they must get on in the wider American world. Various Muslim organizations, their beliefs and practices, their evolution are described. The varying fortunes of overseas influence are examined. His analysis of CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the strongest, most influential Muslim organization, and certainly the most dangerous, is detailed and judicious.
Skerry's conclusion is that the basic problem is not disloyalty but their reluctance to face the "implications of Islamism" that have been pushed by their leaders. This means real engagement with Muslims, which means in turn that we need to know much more, and we
. . . must overcome the populist paranoia, fueled by the evasivenessof our elites [emphasis ours] . . . We don't have the luxury of time to allow Muslims to sort out their loyalty to America. We - and they - must face the challenge now.
We cannot praise this essay highly enough, and we hope our summary will give our readers some idea of its importance.
The last essay we want to call our reader's attention to is "The Suicidal Passion" by Ruth Wisse in the 11/21 issue of The Weekly Standard, another magazine of uneven performance. But this, however, is one of the strongest, most searching essays about anti- Semitism we have ever read. Early on, the author states a proposition, unproven until the essay's end:
Arab leaders do not yet acknowledge that they sealed the doom of their societies in 1948 when they organized their politics against the Jewish state rather than toward the improvement of their countries.
After quoting various Arabs attesting to that truth, she moves on to discuss anti-Semitism as it functions in international politics as "a political instrument - a strategy, an ideology, sometimes a movement that organizes politics against the Jews." This insight becomes significant as she describes the history of the ideology in late 19th century Germany, just as modernism and liberal democracy were beginning to develop, when "anti-Semitism became a catchall for a politics of grievance and blame, associated with the strains of these new developments." We see the continuation of this in the way Arabs used the Jews to subvert the UN:
Ignored as a parochial issue, the Arab war against Israel safely violated the liberal ideals of the UN by appearing to oppose only Jews . . . they flaunted contempt for the liberal democratic culture of the West that Israel embodied.
As for the 1975 Zionism Is Racism UN resolution, it can be said that by accusing Jews of their own crimes, their own violations of UN human rights principles, they "enjoyed their symbolic political victory over the only liberal democracy in the Middle East." The larger target behind Israel, of course, is the U.S.
At the end, Wisse shows the proof of her initial proposition when she points out that anti-Semitism
. . . attributes real problems to a phony cause, and strategies of blame . . . eventually cause societies that resort to them to collapse under the weight of their negativity.
We think all our readers will be interested by our summaries of these three essays that give us much to ponder. Curiosity is the mother of knowledge. *