Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Military and Egoism

Alex Epstein, in a just released ARI op-ed makes the following important points in time for Memorial Day:

Soldiers are not sacrificial objects; they are full-fledged Americans with the same moral right as the rest of us to the pursuit of their own goals, their own dreams, their own happiness. Rational soldiers enjoy much of the work of military service, take pride in their ability to do it superlatively, and gain profound satisfaction in protecting the freedom of every American, including their own freedom.

Soldiers know that in entering the military, they are risking their lives in the event of war. But this risk is not, as it is often described, a "sacrifice" for a "higher cause." When there is a true threat to America, it is a threat to all of our lives and loved ones, soldiers included. Many become soldiers for precisely this reason; it was, for instance, the realization of the threat of Islamic terrorism after September 11--when 3,000 innocent Americans were slaughtered in cold blood on a random Tuesday morning--that prompted so many to join the military.

For an American soldier, to fight for freedom is not to fight for a "higher cause," separate from or superior to his own life--it is to fight for his own life and happiness. He is willing to risk his life in time of war because he is unwilling to live as anything other than a free man. He does not want or expect to die, but he would rather die than live in slavery or perpetual fear. His attitude is epitomized by the words of John Stark, New Hampshire’s most famous soldier in the Revolutionary War: "Live free or die."

It very frustrating to constantly hear sacrifice associated with soldiers as if that was the nature of their virtue. I think their virtue rather lies in the exceptional integrity and courage of their refusal to live in fear or as a slave. Read the entire excellent op-ed.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On Stark's Victory of Reason

I have mentioned before that at the Forum for Ayn Rand Fans a fascinating book discussion has taken place on the new book Victory of Reason by Prof. Rodney Stark. The book argued for the controversial thesis that "Christiantity led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success." I have been following this discussion week by week as they covered each chapter of this book. The more formal discussion has now concluded with the thread open to comments by all. I highly recommend people interested in the history and influence of ideas take a look. Here is an excerpt from moderator's Burgess Laughlin's conclusion:
Prof. Stark declares, “Christianity created Western Civilization.” Unfortunately he has never told us what he means by “Western Civilization.” If he, like most scholars, means simply European culture as a mix of Greek, Semitic, Roman, and Germanic streams, then trial by ordeal, witch-hunts, the Inquisition, “post-modernism,” Marxism, and environmentalism are all elements of Western Civilization, alongside the development of logic, the founding of the U. S., the discovery of penicillin, computers, the science of genetics, and the ideal of constitutional government. Such a definition – Western Civilization as European culture -- is bound mostly by geography and the accidents of history. It is a definition by nonessentials.

If Western Civilization is instead defined by its philosophical fundamentals (the “Civilization” part) within a certain historical context (the “Western” part), then Prof. Stark’s statement is false. Christianity did not create Western Civilization, though it had an enormous influence on European culture.

Philosophically defined, Western Civilization is an interconnected set of cultural elements whose philosophical foundation (cause and explanation) is a philosophy of reason. Historically, the origin of this civilization is not Christianity but the best elements of Greek philosophy as it emerged in Classical Greek culture. By this definition, logic, the sciences (from physics to history), advanced technology, rule by law, representative government, the concept of rights, and romantic-realism in art are all elements of W. Civilization. Why? Because they are products of reason explicated and sanctioned by a stream of philosophy going back to Aristotle and, to a lesser extent, some of his predecessors.

Christianity – the religion advocated by Jesus and Paul (who is sometimes called the “second founder”) was in no way, shape, or form a philosophy of reason. Whether some Christians -- living in the following centuries and receiving a thorough pagan education before converting to Christianity -- helped preserve some elements of a Greek respect for reason (itself diluted and conflicted) is another question. That question is a historical question, specifically a question for the fields of history of philosophy, history of ideas, intellectual history, and cultural history.

I hold that some Christians did (and still do) help preserve a sort of respect for reason (though in a vague, fragmented, and conflicted form). Diverse examples are Pelagius, Boethius, Bernard of Chartres, Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, Christine de Pisan, John Locke, and others, including more recent individuals such as Gregor Mendel, Pope John Paul II, and Robert George.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Irrationality of Altruism

Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard writes in Principles in Practice, the TOS Blog about the fact that despite the near universality of acceptance for altruism, no earthly reason for it has ever been provided.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Deathcounts and Morality

The media has not been particularly helpful in this war. Frequently, in various battles or terrorist attacks bodies are counted without regard as to which side they were on, as if the total number of dead during such an event had some special moral significance. Well, it doesn't! We're the good guys! The Islamic terrorists whether in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere are the enemy. When the terrorists die, it's a good thing. When we kill many more of them than they manage to kill of us, that should be considered a success for our side. It is most frustrating to see headlines indicating an overall death count without regard to who was killed by whom. And for the same reason, headlines such as the following are quite gratifying:

Coalition: Attacks Kill Up to 80 Taliban

Well done troops!

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Good: The Objective Standard

I recently had the privilege to attend and enjoy Tara Smith's talk on Justice in Irvine where I work. The talk was excellent but ironically it was primarily during the Q&A that Dr. Smith was able to put increased emphasis on the greater need to praise the good. Of course, it is important to identify and judge evil but as anybody who has studied Objectivism in some detail knows, evil is metaphysically impotent -- it is far more important to express appreciation to the good people one encounters as they are the life-givers. Regular readers of this blog know that I spend most of my time criticising what's wrong with the culture. In this post I intend to do the opposite.

I have commented on the new journal The Objective Standard (TOS) briefly on a previous occasion but it deserves a more thorough review. So following in the footsteps of Mike of The Primacy of the Awesome blog, here are my comments on the premiere issue of TOS. I will begin by repeating my earlier comment that "the issue clearly represents a new milestone in Objectivist publications in every aspect." The professional look of journal deserves high praise -- finally an Objectivist publication that does not look like a pamphlet or newsletter. But let me focus on content as that is what's most important. Here there are five excellent essays and I'll take them each in turn.

Craig Biddle has written an elegant introduction to the philosophy behind the journal -- Ayn Rand's Objectivism -- in his essay Introducing The Objective Standard. He labors to distinguish Objectivism from its main philosophical rivals on both the right and the left and lays out an exciting future for the journal. Previous readers of his excellent book Loving Life will once again enjoy his lucid writing style and essentialized presentation of the ideas that will guide the journal.

Director of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) Yaron Brook and ARI Junior Fellow Alex Epstein finally put into print the position on the "War on Terror" that Dr. Brook has discussed in several previous talks and op-eds in their essay "Just War Theory vs. American Self-Defense." Now there is a single place where people can see the complete statement of ARI's position on the war with many questions and sub-issues thoroughly addressed, including such issues frequently in the news as the treatment of prisoners of war. The essay is an inspiring example of the power of ideas in action and argues forcefully (and in my opinion successfully) that the current effort allegedly put forth to defend us is misguided and inadequate. An alternative approach to fighting that will lead us to victory is also presented.

After war and peace, we move to education with Lisa VanDamme's enlightening essay "The Hierarchy of Education: The Most Neglected Issue in Education." Mrs. VanDamme is owner and director of the VanDamme Academy, a private school in Laguna Hills, where I might mention my daughter will start school in the fall. Since her experience with homeschooling, VanDamme has been sharpening and developing her views on education, based on the foundation provided in Leonard Peikoff's classic set of lectures "The Philosophy of Education." The result is a fascinating insight into an essential structural component of teaching almost completely overlooked by most of today's educators -- the issue of hierarchy. VanDamme describes her approach to teaching the subjects of science, literature, and history, and where she differs with Montessori education, giving many examples to clearly illustrate her points. In her essay we again see the power of ideas in the application of Objectivist epistemology and its idea of the hierarchical nature of knowledge to issues in education.

As someone who has studied physics in college, I am particularly enthusiastic about David Harriman's essay "Enlightenment Science and Its Fall." Excerpted from chapter 5 of Mr. Harriman's upcoming book The Anti-Copernican Revolution, the essay discusses some of the great scientists and mathematicians of the Enlightenment, including such figures as Euler, Stephen Gray, Charles DuFay, and, of course, Benjamin Franklin, as well as some of the intellectual villains at the time who rejected the greatness and achievements of the age, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, of course, Immanuel Kant, as well as the scientists they both influenced. The result is a fascinating story of both the rise and promise of enlightenment science and its subsequent corruption as a result of philosophy. If this essay is representative, then I, for one, can't wait until Harriman's book is published.

Finally, we have ARI junior fellow Elan Journo's interesting piece on "Exposing Anti-Muslim 'Conspiracies'" where he discusses the unfortunate paranoid delusions prevalent in the Muslim world. Relying on the detailed coverage of conspiracy theories in Daniel Pipes's book The Hidden Hand, Journo takes the reader on a disturbing journey through the irrational world of the Middle East. Journo argues that the bizarre beliefs he sites present ample depressing evidence of the corrupting influence of religious ideas on the local culture and continue to present a threat to the more civilized world.

To have so many high quality essays in a single journal is indeed a rare thing. I am already eagerly awaiting the next issue.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Science of Evolution

Despite the fact that I studied physics at college, I've always had an appreciation for certain aspects of the life sciences. A few years ago I listened to an unabridged audio version of the Darwin's Origin of the Species read by the late, great David Case. I came away impressed with rigorous inductive logic of that treatise and the great achievement of the theory. Recently, the New York Review of Books noted some of the latest trends in the field of evolutionary research in a book review entitled "Evolving Evolution" by Edward Ziff and Israel Rosenfield. Among the more fascinating items was the following:
What they and others discovered were genes that regulate the development of the embryo and exert control over other genes by mechanisms analogous to that of the repressor molecule studied by Monod and Jacob. Eight of these controlling genes, called Hox genes, are found in virtually all animals —worms, mice, and human beings— and they have existed for more than half a billion years. Fruit flies and worms have only one set of eight Hox genes; fish and mammals (including mice, elephants, and humans) have four sets. Each set of Hox genes in fish and mammals is remarkably similar to the eight Hox genes found in fruit flies and worms. This discovery showed that very similar genes control both embryological and later development in virtually all insects and animals.
The diagram that goes along with this description illustrates the point made. The reviewers further suggest that
These findings strongly support the Darwinian view that animals descend from one or a few ancestors. However, contrary to the previously accepted neo-Darwinian view, the same findings showed that different animal forms are not primarily a function of distinct gene pools that have evolved over millions of years. How then do similar collections of genes create the enormous diversity of living forms? In Sean Carroll's view, what creates diversity is the patterns in which genes are turned "on" and "off." The different appendages found in centipedes, fruit flies, lobsters, and brine shrimp are created by varying combinations of Hox gene activity in the developing insect or crustacean embryo.
This kind of switching activity is key and has enormous implications:
Evolution, then, depends on new patterns of gene regulation rather than the creation of new genes. Indeed, it is not meaningful to talk about the function of a single gene in isolation. Genes only function in the context of the organism. There is no single gene for an eye, a limb, or language, much less such tendencies as homosexuality. Genes function in relation to other genes and intercellular signals, much as words vary in meaning and function depending on the way they are used in sentences and the contexts in which they are spoken. It is the combinations of gene activity, which may be different in different species, that create the form of the organism. "We can begin to think of individual groups—insects, spiders, and centipedes, or birds, mammals, and reptiles, as well as their long extinct fossil relatives—not so much in terms of their uniqueness, but as variations on a common theme," Carroll writes. And surprising, too, is the evidence that all animals, from worms to humans, probably descend from one or a few primitive bacteria. Darwin would have been pleased to discover molecular evidence for his "common descent."
The authors conclude:
We now have a far deeper understanding of evolution than even a decade ago. And although our knowledge is still incomplete, our new understanding, as the books under review admirably show, has opened the way toward a comprehensive account of evolution and has supplied solid answers to the critics of evolutionary theory.
I would have to agree. The progress of evolutionary theory is inspiring.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bush on Illegal Immigration

Last night President Bush delivered a speech on the subject of illegal immigration. He proposed some changes in enforcement along with an introduction of a "temporary worker program." While Bush falls short of what I would consider the ideal immigration policy, I do give Bush credit for moving in the right direction. I consider myself mostly neutral about the increased enforcement provisions since I basically believe it is impossible to completely seal off the border with Mexico and I'm quite happy that Bush stated explicitly:
The United States is not going to militarize the southern border. Mexico is our neighbor, and our friend. We will continue to work cooperatively to improve security on both sides of the border, ... to confront common problems like drug trafficking and crime, ... and to reduce illegal immigration.
A militarization should remain unnecessary while we are not facing an armed invasion but I'll grant there's some advantage to knowing at least something about who enters the country from abroad. I think the most promising part of Bush's proposal is clearly his "temporary worker program" which will surely have the effect of increasing the number of people who can come into the US legally. Here is how the President described it:

Second, to secure our border, we must create a temporary worker program. The reality is that there are many people on the other side of our border who will do anything to come to America to work and build a better life. They walk across miles of desert in the summer heat, or hide in the back of 18-wheelers to reach our country. This creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop. To secure the border effectively, we must reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across.

Therefore, I support a temporary worker program that would create a legal path for foreign workers to enter our country in an orderly way, for a limited period of time. This program would match willing foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing. Every worker who applies for the program would be required to pass criminal background checks. And temporary workers must return to their home country at the conclusion of their stay. A temporary worker program would meet the needs of our economy, and it would give honest immigrants a way to provide for their families while respecting the law. A temporary worker program would reduce the appeal of human smugglers and make it less likely that people would risk their lives to cross the border. It would ease the financial burden on state and local governments, by replacing illegal workers with lawful taxpayers. And above all, a temporary worker program would add to our security by making certain we know who is in our country and why they are here.

One can quibble about the various conditions imposed on the workers but I nevertheless think it is undeniably better than sneaking across the border. And I also hope that this program will apply to workers from around the world which might put to rest some of fears of "Mexifornia."

Again, ideally immigration quotas would be cancelled, but I think the President deserves some credit for enabling millions of individuals obtain a legal status in this country.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Military Heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Continuing Inadequacy of the Current War Strategy

I think it is important to acknoledge the heroism and adeptness of our military forces in this war. I realize I am a frequent critic of the way this war is conducted and its overall approach. However, this does not mean that our fighting forces are not highly praiseworthy, even though they might operate under a flawed strategy. Actually, the opposite is true. The military deserves even more praise and support for what it does achieve.

With this in mind, via an interesting post on the Counterterrorism Blog, I have learned of a recent article in the Army Times about the special forces organization called Task Force 145 which is tasked with "hunting down Zarqawi...and destroying his Al-Qaida in Iraq organization." Here are some details:
The job of hunting Zarqawi and rolling up his al-Qaida in Iraq network falls to Task Force 145, which is made up of the most elite U.S. and British special operations forces, and whose headquarters is in Balad.

The U.S. forces are drawn from units under Joint Special Operations Command at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. These include the military’s two “direct action” special mission units — the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, known as Delta Force, and the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, sometimes known by its cover name, Naval Special Warfare Development Group; the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and 75th Ranger Regiment; and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron.
TF 145 is divided into four subordinate task forces in Iraq:

• Task Force West, organized around a SEAL Team 6 squadron with Rangers in support.

• Task Force Central, organized around a Delta squadron with Rangers in support.

• Task Force North, organized around a Ranger battalion combined with a small Delta element.

• Task Force Black, organized around a British Special Air Service “saber squadron,” with British paratroopers from the Special Forces Support Group in support.
As far as their successes, here are some examples:
Just nine days before al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi released his latest video, a special operations raid killed five of his men, captured five others and apparently came within a couple of city blocks of nabbing Zarqawi himself.

Then, the day Zarqawi’s video debuted, special ops forces killed 12 more of his troops in a second raid in the same town.
A slide published by the Defense Department in May 2005 shows 21 senior Zarqawi lieutenants, seven of whom were listed as killed, 13 as captured and only one as “wanted.”
TF 145’s success has been Zarqawi’s loss, a special ops source said. His senior lieutenants used to be foreigners, but not anymore; TF 145 and its predecessors killed or captured them all.

“He doesn’t have a foreigner working for him anymore — most of them are Iraqis. We’ve either captured or killed all of his foreign influence.”

The foreign terrorists still coming into Iraq from Syria, he said, “are suicide bombers only … ‘Muslims on Spring Break.’ They come in through Syria, get a week of training — ‘Here, this is an RPG’ — come down and strap a bomb on them.”
This last of course unfortunately hints at the bigger problem with the war, which despite the heroism and successes of Task Force 145 is still being fought with one arm tied behind our back. Even the members of the task force know this:
Beyond Zarqawi, bin Laden and Zawahiri, there are other targets that JSOC could hit, if it had the authority and resources, the special ops source said.

The U.S. knows of “high-tier” al-Qaida personnel in multiple European countries, he said.

“They’re around the world ... The point is, does the U.S. have the resolve … to go conduct a unilateral operation to get these folks?”

Asked if anyone in JSOC was doing this now, he said, “Not really.”

Part of the reason: Special mission units are already stretched by the mission in Iraq.

“There’s no one left,” he said.
And then there's the role of Iran:
Meanwhile, Zarqawi also hungers for more personnel. “Al-Qaida is trying to get some other people to him through Iran — some planners, some trainers,” the special ops source said.

The Iranian government knows about this, and despite Zarqawi’s violence against fellow Shiites in Iraq, the Iranians have decided to allow the transit of al-Qaida personnel, the source said, calling it “a marriage of convenience.”

JSOC knew of insurgent training camps in both Syria and Iran that TF 145 could hit, the source said, but “politics” had kept the task force from launching cross-border missions.

He said the trainers in the camps did not appear to be Syrian or Iranian military personnel, but members of affiliated groups like Hezbollah. He suspects that these activities were also occurring with the tacit approval of the host governments.
The influence of Iran via weapons shipments and training of al-Qaida has been noted by Debka as well in the blog IRAQ THE MODEL written by an Iraqi on the scene, who found reports in a local Iraqi newspaper (arabic) translated to English by this Iranian dissident site. Here's what's being reported:
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had provided the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq heavy weapons including anti-aircraft missiles, it emerged on Friday.

The Iraqi daily az-Zaman which is published in London and Baghdad quoted credible Iraqi sources as revealing that the IRGC had given al-Qaeda in Iraq, Strela-type SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles, modern explosives, and a large number of personnel arms including Kalashnikovs and BKC machineguns.
Yet another act of war by Iran against us.
The situation in Afghanistan seems much calmer by comparison but, as this detailed Armed Forces Journal article describes, that may be part of the problem. First, let's again acknowledge the successes of the US and allied troops there:
When TF[task force] Bayonet and TF[task force] 31 troops do encounter the Taliban, the results are always the same. “We invariably come out on top,” Higgins said. “We’ve had a number of set battles with these guys where we’ve killed 40 or 50.”
Special operators and conventional infantry officers alike are convinced their strategy is working. By late November, TF 31 had killed approximately 400 enemy personnel, including several midlevel commanders. They had also captured 278 enemy fighters, 66 of whom, including several leaders, became “long-term detainees,” according to charts provided to AFJ.
However, as usual, our forces are restricted by "higher" political considerations:
But if the Taliban’s sanctuary is inside Afghanistan, its “safe haven,” as TF Bayonet commander Col. Kevin Owens described it, is across the border in Pakistan’s virtually lawless Pashtun tribal areas.

It is there, according to Bolduc, that the Taliban’s senior leadership resides, providing the core of what he calls a “shadow government.” The guerrillas also use Pakistan as a source of recruits and bomb-making materials, and as a place to train and rest during the winter, he said. And, of course, Pakistan is the presumed location of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
But at the insistence of the Pakistani government, Central Command prevents U.S. forces in Afghanistan from crossing the border to attack any of the Taliban and al-Qaida targets.

“We — coalition forces — cannot cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan without the express permission of the government of Pakistan, and the government of Pakistan will not give us that permission,” said Col. Barry Shapiro, the liaison officer to Pakistan for Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, the highest U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan. “The presence of U.S. forces on Pakistani soil from a strategic standpoint would be extremely destabilizing to [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf’s administration, and we don’t need to add that problem to the mix.

“The fact of the matter is that the Pakistanis are in charge of their own territory, their tribal areas, and we have to be very careful to make sure that we’re not creating the perception that we are in control of Pakistani territory, or, for that matter, that the Pakistanis are taking direction from U.S. forces. … Our forces on the ground have to reconcile the tactical advantage of being able to strike targets inside the [tribal areas] against the strategic disadvantages, which would be tremendous.”
And furthermore, there is some worry that the Taleban is simply waiting until US troops leave:
But Bolduc and his assistant operations officer said the absence of significant violence around the elections was part of the Taliban’s strategy, not simply the result of effective security work on the part of the coalition.
The Taliban has to conserve its resources for the time when the Americans are gone, the assistant operations officer said. “That’s why we had a theory prior to the national assembly and provincial council elections that they would not throw significant resources against those elections. And the low incidence of violence and low incidence of disruption to the election we feel bore out that theory, and backed up what we’re saying about the state of the insurgency,” he said. “They will use those elections to their advantage to sort of dupe the world into a false sense of victory, by showing us that the elections went off, they were a strategic victory [for the coalition] and off we can go.
In fact, the Taliban also took some advantage of the introduction of democracy:
The Taliban forces didn’t just ignore the elections, they participated in them. The |TF 31 assistant operations officer said the task force had cross-referenced the list of election candidates with the U.S. military’s target list and found several matches in Oruzgan province alone.

“There were guys on the candidate list that we knew had loose affiliations with the [Taliban] or were facilitators or were in some other way soiled with the stain of the [Taliban] or were on our target list in some way, shape or form,” the assistant operations officer said. “That demonstrated to us that these guys will attempt to build some kind of shadow government through the legitimate elections so that they can have people in place to take over those positions of responsibility, if and when their way of life and their way of government is reinstitutionalized by collapsing the legitimate government.”
It is still the case that we are winning every military engagement with the enemy but it may not matter, much as it did not matter in Vietnam. Since the strategy is not committed to outright victory but instead appears to seek very limited success via substantially restricted, indirect means, and without identifying, attacking, and defeating Iran as the main enemy, we may yet suffer greatly in this long war.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Naive Absurdities vs. Reason and Reality

I have numerous problems with the various claims of convservatives or people generally thought of as "right-wing." However, sometimes the absurdities and bizarre naivete of what currently apparently passes for leftism simply boggles the mind. As evidence I present a column in today's Los Angeles Times entitled "A preschool lesson on Iran," written by one Rosa Brooks, a lawyer who has been active in various human rights groups. Allow me to quote from the column:
Child one: "That's my shovel!"

Child two: "You already have a shovel! This is MY shovel!"

Child one: "I want ALL the shovels! I will KILL you!"

Child two: "I will KILL YOU MORE!"

To foreign policy aficionados, it's a familiar scenario; e.g.:

U.S. (per President Bush): "[Iran] will be dealt with…. "

Iran (per President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad): "[The U.S. is] not capable of causing the least harm to the Iranian people; they will suffer more."

U.S. (per U.N. Ambassador John Bolton): "If [Iran] continues … there will be tangible and painful consequences."

Iran (per supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei): "Iran will respond twofold to any attack."

U.S. (per Bush administration): "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!"

In both the little sandbox and the big sandbox, conflicts like this often end in tears. But tears aren't inevitable. Sensible grown-ups de-escalate the situation by treating the little darlings like rational people, even if they're not, and behaving in a way that establishes clear expectations and respects the emotions of everyone concerned.
I know for a fact that not all liberals feel this way (and it is "feel" -- even a modicum of thought would have prevented Ms. Brooks from writing this drivel). Alan Dershowitz and Christopher Hitchens immediately come to mind as having in many ways far more sensible views. Nevertheless, her point of view seems quite prevalent among numerous people usually termed "liberals." I do find it amusing that the games that the Bush administration is presently playing with Iran are tantamount to serious threats that the situation needs to be "de-escalated." But seriously now, despite her degrees from Harvard and Oxford, Ms. Brooks seems unaware of history and more specifically the absence of successful negotiations between murderous totalitarian theocracies and free countries. Brooks seems to desparate to not allow moral judgment to play any part in the controversy with the invitable result that she treats Iran and the U.S. as two morally equivalent rivals rather than the moral opposites that they are.

If Brooks were to take moral principles into account when thinking about this situation she might hopefully have concluded that, based on the principle of individual rights, that a policy which "respects the emotions of everyone concerned" is in fact evil. It would be the equivalent of treating the mafia and the police as morally equivalent (though I would not be surprised if Ms. Brooks would have no problem doing that as well.)

A proper policy would recognize that we have in fact long been at war with Iran particularly since the embassy hijacking during the Iranian revolution. Ms. Brooks mentions the embassy episode in passing as if it was only a minor diplomatic tiff between two countries that otherwise have much in common. Wrong! Occupying another country's embassy by force is an act of war that deserves a warlike response! Unfortunately President Carter did not declare war on Iran at the time, nor has any President since then, including the present President Bush despite plenty of additional provocations since the embassy takeover.
Unlike Ms. Broooks nonsense, an analysis that is based on proper moral principles and a rational thought process can be found in today's Jerusalem Post, in Caroline Glick's Column One. Her column today is entitled "America embraces the Hamas fantasy." Unlike Brooks, Glick sees through the posturing of the Bush administration:
Ahmadinejad's letter was delivered on Monday. One would think that if the Bush administration was concerned about the signals Teheran was sending that Bush and top administration officials would be at pains for the next several days to ensure that Iran and the rest of the world understood that the US would not be surrendering any time soon to the dictates of its sworn enemies.

Sadly, the opposite occurred.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the EU's foreign policy chiefs at the UN for a summit of the so-called Middle East Quartet. The meeting, which was the first official gathering of Quartet members since the popularly elected Hamas government assumed power in the Palestinian Authority and Ehud Olmert formed his government in Israel, was dedicated to the question of how to continue to give the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid even though they just elected an international jihadist organization to lead them.
Actions speak louder than words and despite occasional "tough" language, the Bush administration has not only refrained from doing anything about the Iranian threat, but as Glick points out, rewarded one of its clients with monetary support despite Hamas's continuing support for terrorism. Glick also points out a few further facts, lest one think that Hamas's objectives are limited to Israel:

Indeed, even before Hamas subordinated itself to Teheran, the movement was in a declared state of war against America. On December 17, 2001, Hamas published a joint declaration with the Islamic Jihad in which it declared, "Americans are the enemies of the Palestinian people," and Americans "are a target for future attacks." Hamas's rhetoric has customarily been imbued with virulent anti-Americanism. Hamas has financed Palestinian members of al-Qaida and in at least one instance, in 2003, it trained a naturalized Canadian citizen from Gaza in terrorist tactics for the purpose of having him carry out attacks in Canada and the US. Fortunately, Israeli security forces arrested him before he was able to carry out his mission.

As Matthew Levitt points out in his copiously documented and detailed new book, Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, in 2004 the FBI admitted that Hamas has the capabilities to carry out attacks in the US. In August 2004, a Hamas terrorist was arrested while taking pictures of the suspension cables of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

In its present capacity as an Iranian client there can be no doubt that Hamas's willingness to take action against the US has increased. Its interest in expanding its activities beyond Israel has been on full display in recent weeks in Jordan. For the second time in so many weeks, on Wednesday a Jordanian government spokesman announced the unearthing of Hamas weapons caches in the kingdom, including Iranian-made rocket launchers. The spokesman also announced that Hamas is seeking to recruit Jordanian nationals to undergo terror training in Syria and Iran. The spokesman referred to Hamas's activities in the country as posing "a major threat to the national security of the country."

Glick's views are breath of fresh air filled with reality, reason, and a proper moral perspective which takes into account of the difference between good and evil on the international scene. However, it is also a fact that her point of view has few followers in Israel, a country that seems intent on continuing its path to self-destruction by surrendering further parts of its territory.

Similarly, in the United States, it is an unfortunate fact that there appears to be nobody presently on the political scene who is willing to fight this war as it needs to be fought. We are presented with a choice of either utopian pacificism which counsels outright surrender or a severely hampered inadequate military effort which does not believe in victory and thus results in neverending relatively restrained conflict as well as substantial security-related impositions at home, which supposedly we're required to live with indefinitely. It seems we'll have to wait until better ideas in the culture make possible a better leadership.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Founding Fathers & Faith

The following book review in the NYTimes is worth reading in its entirety. Money quote:
It is one of the oddities of our history that this very religious country was created by men who, for one brief but significant moment, had serious reservations about religion in general and Christianity in particular.
Prager on subjectivism in religion

Of course, commentator and radio talk show host Dennis Prager would never actually agree with the idea that religion as such is subjective and yet, every once in while, the blatant truth of this proposition has to shine through. In an excellent column today Prager joins those who have been advocating for some time that this war is misnamed and the enemy is very much religious in nature. However, in an interesting passage in this article Prager writes:
With a background in religious studies and having studied Arabic and Islam, many listeners have called my radio show asking me if I consider Islam to be inherently violent or even evil. From 9-11 to now, I have responded that I do not assess religions; I assess the practitioners of religions. Why? Because it is almost impossible to assess any religion since its own adherents so often differ as to what it is. For example, is Christianity the Christianity of most evangelicals or that of the National Council of Churches? On virtually every important moral issue, they differ. The same holds true for right- and left-wing groups within Judaism.[emphasis added]
This has been my criticism of those claiming that religion can provide the basis for morality. Religious people such as Prager claim that without God there can be no morality. Why? Because, Prager would argue, reason is incapable to deriving "ought" from "is" or morality from facts. As a result, supposedly we will just end up with a lot of different opinions of what's right and what's wrong but no absolute or objective standard. Judeo-Christian values, however, do provide absolute right and wrong, it is claimed, and thus people in favor of morality ought to support religion and Judeo-Christian values in particular.

But clearly, by Prager's own admission, if the problem is that people might disagree, religion provides no solution. Even putting aside the issue of the existence of multiple different religions, people within the same religion often disagree quite strongly as to the interpretation of their sacred texts. So frankly, as far as I'm concerned religious people are back to square one.

Needless to say, this ignores multiple other problems with basing morality on religion rather than reason and reality, such as the fact that religion is based on impossible fantasies, which must be taken on faith, the result of which can hardly be considered objective. It is really no surprise that disagreements on interpretations of these fantastic ideas persists.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Winning battles but losing the war?

While I have been critical of the folks at The Intellectual Activist in the past, I have to admit that lately their commentary on the war has been better in some respects, at least in the sense of recognizing the inadequacy of the Bush response to the Iranian threat. As Robert Tracinski and Jack Wakeland of TIA have been arguing for some time, while we appear to be defeating the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, we leave our bigger enemy untouched. In the April 18, 2006 TIA Daily Tracinski writes that "...[a]l-Qaeda has been shattered as a threat to the US leaving Iran revealed as the much larger, more dangerous Islamist enemy." This is certainly quite true. One wonders what we would have achieved by now had we taken an alternative approach to this whole conflict rather than the "Forward Strategy of Freedom" that Tracinski and company think is worth supporting. Nevertheless, the fact that Al Qaeda in Iraq and Zarqawi in particular appear defeated is also tauted by the folks at where the following apparently summarizes our current situtation there with respect to Zarqawi:
Without much fanfare or publicity, American and British commandoes have taken apart al Qaeda's operation in Iraq. About the only non-Iraqi al Qaeda leader left in Iraq is military leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian. In the last few months, American commandoes nearly caught Zarqawi at least three times. On April 16th and 25th, raids killed and captured over twenty al Qaeda members. Interrogations of the captured men indicated that Zarqawi was in the area. Also captured, before it showed up on an al Qaeda web site, was a video of Zarqawi, holding an American M249 light machinegun. Several of these have been lost, usually from vehicles hit by roadside bombs, and abandoned by their crews. In the video, Zarqawi pleaded for Iraqi Sunni Arabs to support him and not, as more and more Sunni Arabs are doing, the democratically elected government. Zarqawi believes, as does al Qaeda, that democracy is un-Islamic. Only God, through self-selected clerics, can run a country.
Kudos to our military forces, the real heroes in all these events. I am not entirely convinced that Al Qaeda is completely dead but then again it is, strictly speaking, irrelevant. The real threat was never a specific organization or specific individuals (though both of these need to be hunted down and eliminated). The threat is an ideological religious movement (variously called "totalitarian Islam", "Islamism", "Islamic fascism") which is most perfectly embodied in a single country -- Iran (which of course has a strong ally in Syria, as well as something of a rival gang in Saudi Arabia). It is true that the September 11 atrocity was perpetrated by Al Qaeda but that does not change the fact that that it was certainly the example and inspiration (and possibly the material means as well) provided by Iran that made it possible.

With respect to Iran, Tracinski has written a strong essay encouraging the administration to "fight the real war." He concludes as follows:
The wars we have fought so far, against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Baathist regime in Iraq—were necessary, but they left the largest, most dangerous Islamist regime untouched. The Iranians know it. Sensing American weakness, they are moving against us on all fronts—and any further delay in pushing them back will only make the task more difficult. We have to act—and we have to act now.

There can be no victory in the War on Terrorism until we confront—and defeat—the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the real war, and it's time we started fighting it.
One wishes of course that the administration had kept Iran in mind from the beginning but instead, other than the rhetoric of making it part of the "axis of evil" -- no action against Iran was taken. The result can be seen in the following blog entry from "Baghdad Burning" recounting the story of increasing Iranian influence and control ever since the US invasion:
It was around 9 pm on the 11th of April when we finally saw the footage of Saddam’s statue being pulled down by American troops- the American flag plastered on his face. We watched, stunned, as Baghdad was looted and burned by hordes of men, being watched and saluted by American soldiers in tanks. Looking back at it now, it is properly ironic that our first glimpses of the ‘fall of Baghdad’ and the occupation of Iraq came to us via Iran- through that Iranian channel.

We immediately began hearing about the Iranian revolutionary guard, and how they had formed a militia of Iraqis who had defected to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. We heard how they were already inside of the country and were helping to loot and burn everything from governmental facilities to museums. The Hakims and Badr made their debut, followed by several other clerics with their personal guard and militias, all seeping in from Iran.

Today they rule the country. Over the duration of three years, and through the use of vicious militias, assassinations and abductions, they’ve managed to install themselves firmly in the Green Zone. We constantly hear our new puppets rant and rave against Syria, against Saudi Arabia, against Turkey, even against the country they have to thank for their rise to power- America… But no one dares to talk about the role Iran is planning in the country.

The last few days we’ve been hearing about Iranian attacks on northern Iraq- parts of Kurdistan that are on the Iranian border. Several sites were bombed and various news sources are reporting Iranian troops by the thousand standing ready at the Iraqi border. Prior to this, there has been talk of Iranian revolutionary guard infiltrating areas like Diyala and even parts of Baghdad.

It is particularly ironic that Syria is blamed but not Iran. After all Syria is a close ally of Iran. If Iraq becomes an Iranian client state then we will have little to show for all the heroism of our soldiers there. Yet we continue to play the diplomatic game with Iran.