Monday, September 11, 2017

IS DAME JUDI DENCH TALKING NONSENSE OR IS BREXIT THE RETURN TO 'SPLENDID ISOLATION' ?

"The Dench publicity train arrived at BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and inevitably one of the questions was about Brexit. Dame Judi is not in favour. Are there any people in the theatre or film in favour of it? Would they dare admit this if they had voted for Brexit? Presumably the actor’s union Equity would be right on their case with sanctions (“it’s Midsomer Murders for you, for five series”) if anyone dared try to say Brexit might not be a disaster. “I shouldn’t even open this bag of worms,” Dame Judi told the BBC. “But the whole business of leaving Europe… There’s something about being inclusive that is more important than being exclusive.” She recalled a celebratory performance when Britain joined the Common Market (if only it had stayed as a Common Market rather than morphing into an integrationist behemoth) in 1973, with an evening of performance with Sir Lawrence Olivier (Larry, lovely Larry) and fellow actor Max Adrian. “There was opera from Italy and the ballet, there was everybody,” said Dame Judy. “Everybody was represented in Europe that evening. There was something so glorious about it"'.
Iain Martin, "Dame Judi Dench and the luvvie myth of British isolation from Europe". Reaction. 11 September 2017, in www.reaction.life.
"Ever since the 1990s, the number of young people in England choosing a language as part of their sixth-form studies has been going down. However, since 2012, the rate of decline has sped up, with French dropping by 17 per cent and German by 12 per cent over a period of just two years".
Teresa Tinsley & Kathyrn Board, "Why aren’t England's A-level students learning languages?" British Council. 14 April 2015, in www.britishcouncil.org
I am afraid that however much I am enamoured of the acting talents of Dame Judi Dench (especially pre-1990's, when she started, Maggie Smith-like to play herself), the fact is that she is talking bogus nonsense or in fact absolute unadulterated rubbish. As the above referenced statistics clearly show, regardless of British membership of the European Union, and one to two million European immigrants migrating to the United Kingdom since the 2004, that has not prevented a very noticeable down-ward shift in the number of British students who study and can reasonably speak a foreign language. Statistics which parallel the decline in language abilities in the general British population overall. Especially, it would appear the two chief European ones, German and French. So whatever is meant (pace Dame Dench), about that very over-used mot 'inclusive', apparently learning continental languages (and the culture that goes with it one presumes) is not meant to apply. And to belabor a point perhaps in the same vein, is it not too surprising, that of all the Prime Ministers who have governed the United Kingdom since it joined the European Union in 1973, only one (Tony Blair) spoke with some level of confidence, a European language (in Blair's case French)? Whereas pre-British membership of the European Union it was not unheard of to have (three in a row actually) Prime Ministers who spoke some level of French (Macmillan and Churchill) and in the case of Sir Anthony Eden, German and Arabic as well. The larger point that I am making herein is that whether or not one is in favor of Brexit (and I am assuredly not - I thought in June of last year and still to-day think it was and is a mistake), is one made by Iain Martin when he concluded his piece on this issue and this piece:
"The idea that we were ever somehow in splendid isolation from the 18th century onwards, restricting ourselves to English lute music and grim plays about coal-mining deaths in the industrial revolution, until we joined the EEC and “became part of Europe” is just not how it was. We have long been European in cultural terms. It is a shame to see otherwise well-intentioned people become so anti-Brexit that they deal in luvvie myths rather than the more interesting historical reality" 1.
1.) Iain Martin, "Dame Judi Dench and the luvvie myth of British isolation from Europe". Reaction. 11 September 2017, in www.reaction.life.

Friday, September 08, 2017

BRITAIN AS A WORLD POWER: DOES IT STILL HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

"The British Army has been in a state of transition since SDSR 2010, on top of having to contend with continuing operations in Iraq (until 2011) and Afghanistan (until 2014) as well as pressure on the defence budget. This state of affairs does not seem to be ending anytime soon. This was confirmed with the publication of a new SDSR in late 2015, which announced more changes to the structure of the field army, including the formation of two new strike brigades. However, there has been little detail to accompany any of these announcements and it is vital for both UK defence policy and the British Army that the uncertainty surrounding the implementation and eventual impact of SDSR 2015 – the creation of the new formations, including questions about their place in doctrine; and their structure, role, equipment and logistics support requirements – be cleared up as soon as possible. A complicating factor to the army’s work is that ‘defence expenditure has fallen to an unacceptably low level in GDP percentage terms, bearing in mind that, until the mid-1990s, the UK never spent less than 3% of GDP on defence".
Peter Antill & Jeremy Smith, "The British Army in Transition". RUSI Journal. (June / July 2017), p. 56.
On global power rankings, the UK is somewhere between the second and sixth most powerful country in the world. For example, European Geostrategy’s “Audit of major powers” places the UK comfortably second in the world, the only “global power” apart from the US (France, China, and Russia are the next three, all with “regional power” status). (Those favouring a new post-Brexit partnership with Canada and Australia might note that the three of us together would have a power of around 70 per cent of the US’). We have the world’s third largest military budget, behind the US and China but comfortably ahead of Russia, France or India. In 2016 we were the fifth largest economy in the world, and set to overtake Germany (currently fourth) in the mid-2020s. Britain is not the US. Neither are we a serious challenger to the US. Dropping from being the world’s dominant power in the early twentieth century to being decisively not dominant has indeed involved some psychological adjustment. But there is a lot in between being No. 1 and being no-one. We do not “have to accept” that we are small and irrelevant and cannot have a global role. If we cannot have a global role, no-one other than the US can, and the US doesn’t want to do everything and the US isn’t always right. And Britain’s relative power isn’t going ever-downwards. In recent decades it has, if anything, gone up — particularly as Russia’s has declined.
Andrew Lilico, "The world needs Britain today more than ever". Reaction. 24 January 2017, in www.reaction.life.
There are many responses that one can offer up to the remarks of Mr. Lilico. The best one however is the Anthill & Smith article. As they make quite plain, British governments since the mid-1990's, if not earlier have been taking a hacksaw to the British defense budget. As was noted in the article, for the first time since perhaps the mid-19th century (if not earlier), Britain commenced spending less than three-percent of Gross Domestic Product on Defence. Now the figures are barely north of two-percent (and depending upon how you count it, even less than two-percent). The fact of the matter is that the once highly valued British Defense forces are not, 'fit for purpose', in the sense of fighting a war on any sustained and lengthly level. The army that did so badly in Iraq circa 2004-2006, is no more. It is in fact weaker in terms of equipment, force project capability and numbers. In short the fact is that Britain if it does not change and change greatly its defense expenditure it will soon little more than (in the prescient words of a Cabinet paper from 1958): "that of a European Power with a standing similar to that of the Netherlands or Sweden" 1. The end of Empire indeed.
1. Remarks found in 'conclusions' to "The Position of the UK in world affairs: a report by Officials". 9 June 1958, in The Conservative Government and the End of Empire: Series A. Volume I. Part I. Edited by William Roger Louis & Ronald Hyam. (2000), p. 43.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

JACOB REES-MOGG: A MAN FOR OUR TIMES?

"Let me tell you a joke, people. Jacob Rees-Mogg. He is one hilarious dude! He has named his sixth child Sixtus. He took his nanny canvassing. He is so posh that Latin is his first language. He thinks people who went to state school are “potted plants”. Until recently, he held the record for uttering the longest word spoken in parliament – “floccinaucinihilipilification”. When canvassing in Fife in 1997, he said he couldn’t understand people’s accents. See, not only is he funny, but he is also real. He doesn’t bother with the whole “man of the people” act because he holds most of the people in contempt. This is masked, it appears, by his unfailing politeness. He rocks up on panel shows such as Have I Got News For You, where the audience is encouraged to laugh at this anachronism of a man.... And this is what it is: like all his politics, extremely rightwing and reactionary. This politics has not gone away, but is ceaselessly repackaged. It is not a throwback. We are in its throes. As the Home Office document leaked this week shows, a British-interests-first ideology is now subsumed fully into the Tory high command. No one should be surprised by this any more than they should be surprised that Rees-Mogg is a class warrior (for his class alone) who has a track record of voting down every socially progressive policy. Far from being “eccentric” or “freethinking”, as the extreme right likes to characterise itself, he embodies their tick-box views: anti-gay marriage; anti-abortion; doesn’t believe in climate-change legislation, votes against any rise in benefits, even for disabled people; supports zero-hours contracts and tuition fees. He supported Trump, although he has since distanced himself. This is pure neocon territory. Every so often, he goes too far. I don’t mean him talking about how he never changed nappies. “I don’t think nanny would approve, because I’m sure she would think I wouldn’t do it properly,” he told Nigel Farage on LBC. Had them rolling in the aisles, that one. No, sometimes he says what he really thinks. When the Tory party was pushing for more ethnic-minority candidates, he warned against having too high a proportion of them. “Ninety-five per cent of this country is white. The list can’t be totally different from the country at large,” he said. In 2013, he was “guest of honour” at – and gave a speech to – the annual dinner of Traditional Britain Group (TBG), which describes itself as “the home of the disillusioned patriot”. It wants to return black people to “their natural homelands”. When Doreen Lawrence was made a peer, they suggested that she be made to leave the country. Rees-Mogg later sought to dissociate himself from their views, but bear this in mind: the day before he went to talk to TBG, the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight warned him about them. He went and did it anyway.... As usual, Rees-Mogg’s religious faith is used to excuse his appalling bigotry. He is a Catholic and this kind of fundamentalism is always anti-women, but for some reason we are to respect it. I don’t. It has no place in public life. Far from being iconoclastic, this MP’s views are entirely predictable. He is a fund manager with interests in the tobacco, mining, oil and gas industries. His path to parliament was Eton, Oxford and investment banking".
Suzanne Moore, "Jacob Rees-Mogg isn’t old-fashioned, he’s a thoroughly modern bigot". The Guardian. 6 September 2017, in www.guardian.com.
"Rees-Mogg’s appeal to old-school Tories is obvious. He believes unashamedly in the kind of honest-to-goodness conservatism — minimal state interference, free enterprise, personal liberty within a framework of tradition, self-discipline and family values, low taxes — that the party’s upper echelons have scarcely dared advocate since the Thatcher era. His no-nonsense attitude to the EU goes down well with Ukippers too. ‘You are either in the European Union or you leave it,’ he said on Question Time, wearing the pained expression of a man pointing out something so agonisingly obvious that he’s amazed even his thicko fellow panellists can’t get it. It won him whoops of delight from the audience. What’s more surprising, perhaps, is the extent of his appeal among those teens and millennials who might be expected to prefer Corbyn. Yes, it’s probably true that as with Boris, they find him so funny and charming they’re prepared to overlook the fact that he belongs to the hated Tories. But what I think they warm to even more is his extraordinary authenticity. In youth parlance, Rees-Mogg is ‘based’. He’s quick on his feet, comfortable in his skin, knows his own mind and is beholden to no man. Having made his fortune as a value investor in emerging markets before becoming an MP, he is in the unusual position of being able to say what exactly he thinks — and from a position of knowledge and experience. He’s also funny, self-deprecating, charming, looks great in a bespoke double-breasted suit and even better in the copious memes on social media celebrating his wit, wisdom and magnificence. Moggmentum, that’s what they’re calling it".
James Delingpole, "Let's keep up the Moggmentum". The Spectator. 14 July 2017, in www.spectator.co.uk.
In the era of Trumpian morass and Corbynesque stupidity, it is more than refreshing, it is indeed absolutely, radiantly mesmerizing and enjoyable to behold a politician of the caliber of Jacob Rees-Mogg. The son of Sir William (later Lord) Rees-Mogg, an old Etonian and a graduate of Oxford, Jacob Rees-Mogg while by no means perfect in his political views from my vantage point (I believe in taking legislative action to deal with global warming and I was and am opposed to Brexit, without mind you being an excessively enamored of the European Union), the totality of Mr. Rees-Mogg's political vision puts one in mind of the young Lord Salisbury in his willingness to uphold those ultra views which are highly unfashionable in our bien-pensant influenced age. Or in the words of Lord Macaulay describing the very young William Gladstone, Mr. Rees-Mogg can be said to be: "the rising hope of those stern and unbending Tories". It would be a tragedy if he does not become a Prime Minister, but it would be miraculous if he does in fact become one. So to sum up, it could be said of Rees-Mogg (paraphrasing Cyril Connolly on the future Lord Home) that in the 20th century, he would have become Prime Minister before he was fifty. One may only hope that he does become so (like Lord Home) by the time that he is sixty.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

OUR PRESENT PENCHANT FOR TOPPLING OF STATUES AND WHY ROBERT E. LEE WAS A GREAT IF FLAWED MAN

"Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it....Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!
American President Donald Trump, quoted in: Neil Munshi, "Trump says it is ‘foolish’ to remove Confederate symbols". The Financial Times. 17 August 2017, in www.ft.com.
"Lee was a tactically astute but strategically flawed general who led the Confederacy to defeat during the US civil war of 1861 to 1865. As commander for the slavery-supporting Confederacy, and a cruel slave owner himself, Lee is regarded as a highly offensive figure by African-Americans and many other Americans too. Some southerners argue that the memorials to Lee are about “heritage not hate” and commemorate the ordinary soldiers who died in the tragic conflict that killed more Americans than any other war the nation has ever fought".
Leader, "Past battles should not inflame present disputes". The Financial Times. 18 August 2017, in www.ft.com.
This online journal does not ordinarily discuss or delve into the intricacies of American politics. It is a journal which deals with history and with international politics and diplomacy. The case however of the current American penchant for removing statues of Civil War Confederate leaders and symbols does merit, insofar as it involves a question of History, a comment. In particular, the question raised (in admittedly a very inarticulate fashion) by President Trump does indeed call for a thoughtful response. Especially, in light of the arch typically bien-pensant leader in last week's Financial Times. Without in the least being sympathetic to his general point of view, the American President does indeed raised an ultra-valid concern: where does it stop? If we remove to-day statues of two of the greatest military figures in American History (Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson), for the sin of fighting for the Confederacy, then what is to prevent the throwing down of the statues of say Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt? You can readily add names to the list. The point being that history in all of its complexity and complication, is rarely a source of simple dialectics, stark black and white coloring. History tends to be more on the grey side of the ledger. And while it is a fact that for some people statues of Confederate heroes may seem 'oppressive', et cetera, there is not a person on this planet who may not in one form or fashion or other be 'hurt' by some public monument or other. To some people (like myself actually), the statue of Cromwell (or as I have heard some say: 'the regicide Crownwell') in Westminster Abbey is an abomination. Pur et simple. For others Admiral Lord Nelson or the Duke of Wellington, or for that matter Field-Marshal the Earl Haig or Sir Winston Churchill are damned figures (admittedly not for me). The larger point that I make is that these are all great and heroic figures produced by History. Whether you agree with them or not. They did not exist, and the statues to them were not erected in order to make someone, anyone 'feel better'. If you or I need to 'feel better' than one should either go to an analyst, or take a drink of champagne. If you are made so anxious by a statue of say Cecil Rhodes and are a student at an Oxford College, than you should probably go to another University (the University of Sussex anyone?). For whatever reason, our ultra-gauchist activists, rarely choose to go elsewhere. So the amount of 'hurt' that they are suffering from, appears to be not sufficient to so prompt them to relocate. For reasons of course which are obvious. Enough said...
In the case of Robert E. Lee, it is very much that hate him or love him (and like most 19th century American figures from history, he leaves me mostly indifferent), the fact is that he is without a doubt the greatest soldier produced by this country. If one had to nominate someone who fits the label of a Napoleonic General, a general who one would associate with all the great military commanders in history, then Lee is that man. Not Grant, not Washington, not Pershing, not MacArthur, not Patton, or Eisenhower, but Robert E. Lee. There is a truism that 'there are no Austerlitzes in American military history'. Well, there are and they are the battles that Lee won over the Union army in the Civil War. The fact that Lee won his renown fighting in favor of Slavery and the Confederacy is of course his tragedy. One can well imagine how different the 1860's would have been if Lee had decided to command the armies of the Republic. However it is well to remember that the choice that Lee made, while an erratum, was not as hideous as it may now seem to most people. It is noteworthy to recall that there were many individuals of liberal views, many who were opposed to slavery, who supported (at least initially) the Confederate cause. The names of Williams Gladstone and Sir John Acton being the most worthy of mention 1. With that said, nothing will tarnish the greatness of Lee as a general and to a lesser extent a man. Something that President Eisenhower accurately pointed out some sixty-years ago:
"General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained" 2.
Given all the ills and manifold problems that contemporary American society suffers from, the penchant for removing statues, for renaming public venues (as in the Princeton Club's recent renaming the 'Woodrow Wilson room' to something else by the administration of the club, without even a vote or a consultation of the members), and other 'progressive' measures is a piece with a society which is deeply un-serious, nay adolescent in mentality. One can only hope that as in the immortal words of Saint Paul:
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" 2.
1. On Gladstone see: Roy Jenkins. Gladstone. (1995), pp. 236-238. On the future Lord Acton, see: Roland Hill. Lord Acton. (2000), pp. 86-88.
2. This quote comes courtesy of Rod Dreher, see: "A Monumental History". The American Conservative. 24 May 2017, in www.theamericanconservative.com.
3. See: First Corinthians, Chapter 13. V. I.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TRUMP AND AFGHANISTAN: A COMMENT

"President Donald Trump has revealed a new strategy for Afghanistan that commits to maintaining US forces in the war-torn country and increases pressure on Pakistan to crack down on havens used by terrorists. In a prime-time speech on Monday night, Mr Trump said his instinct had been to withdraw from Afghanistan but that he changed his mind because of concerns about creating a vacuum for terrorists. But he stressed that US support was not a “blank cheque” and that Americans were “weary of war without victory”. “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists — including Isis and al-Qaeda — would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11,” Mr Trump said at Fort Myer outside Washington. Explaining his reversal, Mr Trump said Isis had emerged because the US withdrew from Iraq in 2011 and that America “cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq”. He did not say whether he would deploy additional forces to bolster the 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan but stressed that he would give the military the flexibility to produce an outcome “worthy of the tremendous sacrifices” made in the country. In June, Mr Trump gave James Mattis, defence secretary, the authority to deploy several thousand more troops in Afghanistan, but Mr Mattis wanted to hold off on any decision until the administration had agreed on a strategy. “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy,” Mr Trump said. “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.' " 
Demetri Sevastopulo & Kiran Stacey, "Donald Trump warns against hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan". The Financial Times. 21 August 2017, in www.ft.com.
"Based on its interests, the United States' primary objectives should be to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government, to target terrorist and insurgent groups that threaten the United States and its core interests, and to improve the capacity of the Afghan government and local allies as much as is feasible. Washington should set a more realistic goal: to ensure that the Taliban doesn't win. These objectives are and should remain limited. The Afghan government is weak and poorly functioning—and is likely to continue to be so for the foreseeable future. The United States should thus not expect the Afghan government to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield over the next four years of the administration. Instead, Washington should set a more realistic goal: to ensure that the Taliban doesn't win. In order to do this, Washington could take several steps. First, U.S. diplomats need to continue encouraging governance reform in the country, including helping organize transparent elections and undermining large-scale public corruption. U.S. policymakers should also encourage diplomatic reconciliation with the Taliban. Since World War II, there have been roughly 181 insurgencies. Nearly three-quarters have been won on the battlefield. But of the roughly 30 percent that ended in a draw, most settled into a stalemate where neither side assessed that it could win. The Afghan war is at—or close to—a stalemate now. So negotiations may be the most likely path toward ending the violence given the inability of either side to win. Second, the United States should continue to keep at least the current number of 8,400 forces in Afghanistan, although more non-combat troops could be useful for advising Afghan army forces below the corps level. John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has requested several thousand additional troops from the United States and partner nations to train and advise Afghan forces—what some U.S. commanders have referred to as “thickening” advisory efforts. This is a reasonable request, although it is unlikely to break the stalemate".
Seth Jones, "How Trump Should Manage Afghanistan". The Rand Corporation. 21 March 2017, in www.rand.org.
One does not have to be an admirer of President Trump (do such creatures exist any longer?) to agree with his (or should one in fact say that of Generals McMaster & Mattis?) newest strategy for the Afghanistan war. It is the case in fact that a premature withdrawal of American and other Western forces would have been a disaster of the very first-order. That sans American and other Western boots on the ground, it would very much be the case that the Afghan government forces would have faced tremendous pressures from the Taliban. It being the case, that however disagreeable, it is a empirical fact that the regime in Kabul is not yet prepared to stand on its own two feet without Western assistance. Raising the question as to what was in the mind of the prior administration when it talked so freely about a complete withdrawal of all American (and inevitably) all Western forces by 2016? As Anthony Cordesman one of America's premier defense analysts recently noted:
When the U.S. withdrew combat forces in 2014, senior commanders realized all too clearly that the Afghan force was hollow with many units having little more than basic training and limited combat experience. This was due to rushed efforts to mix Afghan forces with police and army to take on the entire military mission of defeating the Taliban and other insurgents. That effort had only really begun to be fully funded in 2011, and many of the required advisors were only present in 2012-2013. It was clear that the Afghan Air Force was years away from having the strike, lift, and medevac capabilities it needed, and the Afghan government—including the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior—lacked core competence and were deeply corrupt. Senior U.S. commanders recommended a train and assist and combat support mission of some 20,000 troops—a mission that could aid the Afghan security forces down to the combat unit level and help it go from a force with basic training to one that could actually fight 1.
In an ideal universe the errata of the prior American administration would have been reversed on day one or two of the current American administration as Cordesman points out. However, it is a truism in this case that 'better late than never'. With the new strategy in effect, one can hope that the minimum, necessary goals of the Western forces in Afghanistan: keeping the Taliban out of power and on the back foot as much as is possible becomes more achievable. Au fond of course Afghanistan is not an important local in and of itself. It is (in the words of Sir Anthony Eden): 'a road to nowhere'. Still, given our truncated world, even atrocious places like Afghanistan have the (negative) merit that one cannot safely ignore them. As the Americans did to their eventual cost from 1990 to 2000. The 'Trump Strategy' for Afghanistan guarantees that this will not occur anytime soon.
1. Anthony Cordesman, "How the Trump Administration is Losing Afghanistan". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 2 August 2017, in www.csis.org

Friday, August 18, 2017

A REVIEW OF NIALL FERGUSON'S KISSINGER, VOLUME I: THE IDEALIST, 1923-1969.

This is a biography of an intellectual, but it is more than just an intellectual biography because , in the evolution of Kissinger’s thought, the interplay of study and experience was singularly close. For that reason, I have come to see this volume as what is known in Germany as a bildungsroman---the story of an education that was both philosophical and sentimental. The story is subdivided into five books. The first takes Kissinger from his childhood in interwar Germany through forced emigration to the United States and back to Germany in a U.S. Army uniform. The second is about his early Harvard career, as an undergraduate, a doctoral student, and a junior professor, but it is also about his emergence as a public intellectual as a result of his work on nuclear strategy for the Council on Foreign Relations. The third describes his first experiences as an adviser, first to a candidate for the presidency---Nelson Rockefeller—and then to a President---John F. Kennedy. The fourth leads him down the twisted road to Vietnam and to realization that the war there could not be won by the United States. The fifth and final book details the events leading up to his wholly unexpected appointment as national security advisor by Nixon.”
Niall Ferguson. Kissinger. Volume I. 1923-1969: The Idealist. (2015), pp. 31-32.
If history teaches anything it is that there can be no peace without equilibrium and no justice without restraint. But I believe equally that no nation could face or even define its choices without a moral compass that set a course through the ambiguities of reality and thus made sacrifices meaningful”.
Henry A. Kissinger. The White House Years. (1979), p. 55.
What can one say about Niall Ferguson’s voluminous, nay grandiose first of two, three or even four volume official biography of ‘Super K’? That it is a superbly written book. A book which shows a deep immersion into both the available (in many cases only available to Ferguson) primary sources as well as the mountainous secondary literature. And that he has, regardless of any minor errata that the book contains, or differences in interpretation, written the definitive first half of Kissinger’s vita. So, with that being said and understood, what does Ferguson make of Kissinger and what does the reader make of Ferguson’s Kissinger? That in many ways, Kissinger was a part and parcel of the ‘Greatest Generation’. The generation of men who were adolescents during the Great Depression, fought in World War II and subsequently went off to University due to the GI bill and were the pilots in charge of the ship of state when it ran aground in that shoal called ‘Indochina’. In the case of Kissinger, he appears to have come through life experiences: being a Jew in Nazi Germany, an intelligence soldier (not an officer), in the midst of the hard battles of the Western front from mid-1944 to the Spring of 1945, a Jew again in a liberated Nazi Germany who witnessed at first hand the abysmal horrors of the concentration and death camps, with virtually no psychological trauma or scars. Indeed, au fond, Kissinger gives the appearance, because no doubt it is true that he is that species called the American immigrant ‘type-A’. Someone for who the usual emotional difficulties that immigrants suffer in America, were merely phases and experiences to be gotten over and passed-through. Not the stuff that one goes to an analyst to ‘discuss’ and then ponder and psychologically wrestle with. Indeed, the word ‘weltschmerz’, and Kissinger based upon this book do not only not belong in the same sentence, they do not even belong in the same book. Equally illuminating and I would argue groundbreaking is that Kissinger quickly became and no doubt remains to this very day, a one-hundred percent American. Per contra to the usual stereotype of Kissinger as a European émigré intellectual, a combination Dr. Strangelove and Humbert Humbert, he was in fact an American to his finger tips in his allegiances and his intellectual background. So much so that as he admitted to his ex-Harvard colleague (and my old Professor) MacGeorge Bundy, his German vocabulary: “is not good enough to speak extemporaneously on a complicated subject. Because my secondary and higher education was in English, all my thinking on international and military affairs has been in English also”. Albeit, in a fact not noted by Ferguson, it was President Kenned's dismissal of him as "ponderous and long-winded", rather than Bundy's maneuvering which prevented Kissinger from obtaining a permanent appointment in the administration 1. For Kissinger the Jamesian stance of a George Kennan about the United States, its domestic polity and its foibles in world affairs is conspicuous by its absence in his own case 2. Similarly, contrary to John Lewis Gaddis statement that Kissinger was the natural heir to Kennan’s concept (as opposed to Paul Nitze’s concept) of containment, with its stress on the importance of concentrating on the important zones of England, Western Europe, North America and Japan, there is nothing in Ferguson’s opus to indicate anything of the sort 3. Indeed, unlike say Hans J. Morgenthau, Kissinger does not (in Ferguson’s reading) appear to have given any deep thought to the fact that based upon any realpolitik analysis, the entire American commitment to South Vietnam, circa 1954 onwards was non-sensical 4. Indeed, despite his private pessimism about the eventual success of the American military and political effort, it is quite apparent from Ferguson’s account that Kissinger was indeed a ‘true believer’ as it pertains to the nominal American ‘mission’ in support of the Government in Saigon 5. Which highlights a point that Ferguson brings up constantly in his narrative: namely that contrary to most of the commentary on Kissinger, in fact ‘Super K’, was not an adherent of realpolitik or machtpolitik 6. Following in the path of Peter Dickson, Ferguson makes a good argument that it was Kant and not Metternich or Bismarck who influenced his thinking on international relations. The only flaw in it, to my mind is the fact going back to the mid-1950’s, we can see a sort of hero-worship (if one wishes to characterize it as such) by Kissinger of such figures as Chou En-Lai , Stalin and Mao. Something which of course became much more transparent in his diplomacy towards the PRC in the 1970’s, his memoirs covering the same and his writings afterwards. The requisite quotation (not quoted in this enormous book) is as follows:
Whatever the qualities of the Soviet Leadership, its training is eminently political and conceptual. Reading Lenin or Mao or Stalin, one is struck by the emphasis on the relationship between political, military, psychological and economic factors, the insistence on finding a conceptual basis for political action and on the need for dominating a situation by flexible tactics and inflexible purpose. And the internal struggles in the Kremlin ensure that only the most iron-nerved reach the top.....As a result, the contest between us and the Soviet system has had many of the attributes of any contest between a professional and an amateur.” 7.
One can only hope that this is a subject matter which Professor Ferguson will discuss at some length in the next volume of this superb biography.
1. Ferguson, op. cit., p. 487. On Kennedy's negative view of Kissinger, see: Lawrence Freedman. Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam. (2000), p. 68.
2. See: Walter Hickson. Cold War Iconoclast (1988). David Allen Mayers. George Kennan and the dilemmas of American Foreign Policy. (1988). Anders Stephanson. Kennan and the Art of Foreign Policy. (1989). In the latter (page 215), there is a revealing quote in which it is noted that: "he [Kennan] toyed with the idea, the drastic alternative of exile, along the lines of Henry James and T. S. Eliot, to a more organic society". Comments which are conspicuously absent from Ferguson's text in re Kissinger of course. Kennan's own memoirs are full of similar sentiments.
3. For Gaddis’ assertion see: Strategies of Containment. (2005), pp. 279-281 and passim. For an explanation of Kennan's concept of Containment versus Nitze concept, see: Melvyn Leffler. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War. (1992). pp. 175-181,355-360 and passim.
4. Ferguson, op. cit., pp. 621-656 and passim.
5. Ibid., pp. 659-689 and passim.
6. For a typical example of this, see: “Kissinger’s dissertation, which gained him a Ph. D. in May 1954, was also a statement of the author’s worldview. He was, and would remain, a firm believer in realpolitik, in the primacy of geopolitics and the balance of power”. In Jussi Hanhimaki. The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy. (2004), p. 7 and passim. For Peter Dickson’s study, see: Peter W. Dickson. Kissinger and the meaning of History. (1978).
7. See: Henry A. Kissinger. Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. (1957), pp. 434-435. For the more illuminating examples of Kissinger's near sycophantic interaction with both Mao & Chou, see: William Burr. The Kissinger Transcripts: the top secret talks with Beijing and Moscow. (1999), p. 86-110 and passim.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

THE MASSACRE IN BARCELONA: A COMMENT

"A van driver deliberately zigzagged into a crowd enjoying a sunny afternoon on Barcelona’s main pedestrian mall Thursday, killing at least 13 people and leaving 80 lying bloodied on the pavement. It was the worst terrorist attack in Spain since 2004, and was at least the sixth time in the past few years that assailants using vehicles as deadly weapons have struck a European city. The police cordoned off the Plaza de Cataluña and Las Ramblas in the heart of Barcelona, both tourist destinations, and began a chaotic pursuit for the people who carried out the attack. Two people were later arrested, including a Moroccan man whose identification documents had been used to rent the van. But the Barcelona police said neither was believed to be the driver, who remained at large. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault, which shattered a peaceful summer afternoon in one of Europe’s most picturesque cities. President Trump and other Western leaders quickly condemned the attack and pledged cooperation".
ANNE-SOPHIE BOLON, PALKO KARASZ and JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr, "Van Hits Pedestrians in Deadly Barcelona Terror Attack". The New York Times. 17 August 2017, in www.nytimes.com.
"Most organised human societies are plagued by terrorism. Within any structured system there will be a political spectrum, and at the ends of this spectrum there will be extremes populated by people who feel the rest of the society is not hearing a political message they need to be awoken to. Last week, Jonathan Evans, the former head of the UK security service MI5, said he believes that Britain will have to confront Islamist terrorism for at least another 20 years. And the reality is that once we have dealt with that strain of the virus, it will simply morph into a new form. To get to the origins of violent Islamist terrorism, one has to go back far beyond the spectacular attacks on the US on September 11 2001 to 1979, a year that rocked the Muslim world. The Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the siege at the Grand Mosque in Mecca by a group of fanatics all showed the violent force of fundamentalist ideas and their power to upend the established order. These three events showed how violent political movements inspired by Islamic theology could threaten superpowers. This was the lesson drawn by the architects of al-Qaeda’s confrontation with the west that culminated on 9/11. Isis is in many ways simply an evolution from that. The attacks on New York and Washington DC almost 16 years ago were not the first time that terrorism had been visited on the west, of course. Before 9/11, Europe had endured successive waves of terrorist violence. Those responsible included right and leftwing groupuscules, separatist outfits such as the IRA and Eta, Middle Eastern networks often linked to the intelligence services of hostile states, and (in the case of France in particular) violent Islamists linked to Algeria and the conflict in Bosnia".
Raffaello Pantucci, "Terrorism will always be with us". The Financial Times. 15 August 2017, in www.ft.com.
The easy cynicism of the bient-pensant liberal, post-enlightenment intelligentsia on the subject of terrorism can be seen on full display in Mr. Pantucci's commentary of two days ago 1. To-day of course we have been forcible reminded that while it is easy (nay far too easy) for bien-pensant commentators like Mr. Pantucci to state that 'terrorism will always be with us', the brutality of that cynicism is exposed for what it is by the events of Barcelona. Of course the sheer mendacity of Mr. Pantucci's comments and those like them are exposed by the fact that people like him would never in a hundred-years, nay a thousand-years state that (to give some easy examples): 'racism will always be with us', 'sexism will always be with us', 'inequality will always be with us', et cetera, et cetera. As per the gist of Mr. Pantucci's argument, it contains aspects which are both accurate and inaccurate. Where Mr. Pantucci's argument is truthful and empirically verifiable, is in his contention that the Muslim extremist violence of the past twenty some years are per se, nothing new. And that Western societies have had problems with terrorism since the early 1970's. Indeed it would be accurate to state that even the numbers killed by Muslim terrorists were to remain at the elevated level of years 2015 and 2016, it would still not come to more than half the total number of attacks and deaths that Europe saw in the 1970's and 1980's 2. Where however Mr. Pantucci's arguments is in erratum, is his thesis that one type of terrorism inevitably replaces another. History shows that this is in fact erroneous. Viz: prior to 1969-1970, terrorism was a non-existent problem in the Western World. Similarly, in the case of Western Europe, terrorist attacks and deaths went down remarkably as old political conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country were settled or began to be settled. And then for approximately ten-years, European figures on terrorist attacks and deaths by the same went down greatly. In the case of the United States, the number of terrorist attacks and deaths from the same went down drastically from the late 1970's to a low point in 1994. Thereafter with the rise of Muslim extremism and violence in Western societies, does the figures go higher. Of course it is good to be reminded that comparing absolute numbers of deaths from the 1970's and the 1980's with those of the past ten to fifteen years is something akin to a mugs game due to the fact that many injuries which thirty or forty years ago, resulted in someone dying would to-day, due to advances in medicine, merely result in injury and prolonged hospitalization. My larger point herein, aside from exposing the fallacious arguments of Mr. Pantucci and those like him, is to show that Muslim terrorism is both extraordinary (in its violence and its evilness) and yet treatable. It does not require that our Western societies be cowed in fear and craven-like appeasement to those elements who engage in such violence. What our societies need to do is to tackle the problem of Muslim violence head-on with iron gloves. Engage and try to support, 'moderate Muslims' (insofar as they exist) and deport, banish, and drive-out of our societies those Muslims, many of them economic migrants or 'refugees', who engage and or support violence, extremism and or engage in it. What Western societies need is to restore faith in itself. In its basic and fundamental beliefs and verities: Christianity, the rule of law, equality of opportunity, neighborliness even. Au fond, Western society of fifty or forty years ago, were in the mots of George Orwell, akin to a family (albeit in his words: "A family with the wrong members in control") 3. What is needed and required, via a strict control of third-world immigration is to endeavor to return to those halcyon feelings and day before it is too late.
1. See for a similar type of argument. Not as cynical of course: Martin Wolf, "Overreaction to the terrorist threat is the perpetrators’ prize". The Financial Times. 29 June 2017 in www.ft.com.
2. Data Team, "Terrorist atrocities in western Europe". The Economist. 23 March 2017, in www.economist.com.
3. George Orwell. The Lion and the Unicorn. Part One: England your England. (1940).