Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Friday, September 29, 2006
Next: I am opposed to war with Iran. I surprise myself in this, for four reasons.

First, I find nuclear proliferation to be an extremely dangerous threat in general. I have, in the past, said that preemptive action to take out the North Korean nuclear program was justified. And Iran is a more determined enemy of the United States than North Korea is (albeit also a weaker enemy in any conventional military sense), so proliferation there should be more worrying. Moreover, an Iranian bomb would assuredly lead Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt down the path of nuclearization, if only to deter Iran.

Second, because I supported (at the time) the war in Iraq in part because of the WMD claims, and those claims with respect to Iran are vastly more credible than they ever were with respect to Iraq.

Third, because I am very much a friend of Israel, and I recognize that the Iranian bomb significantly alters the balance of power in the Middle East to Israel's detriment. Indeed, one cannot completely dismiss the notion that Iran would be willing to use nuclear weapons aggressively, though I myself do not think they would do this.

And fourth, because I think nuclear terrorism is the ultimate contemporary nightmare, and that al Qaeda would certainly use nuclear weapons if it had them, and that the example of Afghanistan proves that terrorist groups like al Qaeda, if they gain control of a state, may be willing to strike countries capable of massive retaliation even though that logically means that they will lose control of the state they have, which undermines any argument for deterrence against such regimes.

I should point out as well that, unlike my previous post, the topic of this one is not actually pressing, because we are nowhere near going to war with Iran. We have done nearly nothing to make such a war possible, either in terms of positioning equipment or getting the support of the American people or preparing the diplomatic ground. The tentative initial diplomatic gestures we have made have been rebuffed. The only reason *anyone* is talking about the possibility of war is that the President has said in various people's presence that he will not leave office without dealing with the Iranian nuclear problem. I don't see any signs yet that this vague promise - made basically to himself - is being translated into precipitate action.

So: why am I opposed to war with Iran?

Several reasons, which I articulate here.

1. Pakistan. Pakistan, like Iran, is an Islamic dictatorship. But there are important differences. Pakistan is, arguably, less democratic. Its people are, almost certainly, more anti-American. Pakistan has ties to al Qaeda, a terrorist group actively at war with America, while Iran is the patron of Hezbollah, a terrorist group actively at war with Israel but not with America, and which has only struck Americans as such when America was intervening in Lebanon (whereas they have incidentally struck American Jews in Israel and elsewhere in the world as part of attacks on Israeli and non-Israeli Jewish targets). And, of course, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. America's "alliance" with Pakistan is already on its last legs. But the nuclear terrorist nightmare becomes vastly more likely if Pakistan collapses or is captured by al-Qaeda sympathetic forces. Indeed, the likelihood of nuclear terrorism originating in Pakistan must be rated more highly than the likelihood of nuclear terrorism originating in Iran. I'm convinced that an attack on Iran would mean the end of any prospect of controlling Pakistan and keeping it from going wholeheartedly over to the dark side.

2. China. The United States has a massive interest in integrating China into an international system, in enabling China to emerge as a great power without feeling the need to become a "revisionist" power. We failed in this regard with Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, with consequences that are well-known. If we fail with China, the consequences could be considerably worse. The Chinese leadership has for some time been consciously stoking Han nationalism as a way of building support for a regime that no longer espouses socialism in any meaningful sense of the word, and that has been tainted by massive corruption. We have to maneuver carefully between the Scylla of making the regime feel threatened from without and the Charybdis of making the regime feel like there's a power vacuum for it to occupy. Right now, I fear our foreign policy is achieving the worst of both worlds: making China worried about our intentions and unimpressed with our abilities. War with Iran would substantially increase Chinese perceptions of America as a threat. If the war achieved success levels similar to our Iraqi adventure, it would also deepen their contempt for our abilities. Moreover, precipitate American action in Iran would lead to a reassessment in a variety of minor Asian capitals as to the relative dangers of American or Chinese patronage. Who would want to be the Turkey of East Asia when America decides to target North Korea, or Burma, or some other state? That's going to be a question asked in Bangkok and Seoul and Jakarta and Manila, and China is poised to reap the benefit any time the answer is, "not us!"

3. We have no justification for war. Iran is not threatening to attack us. Yes, they have called for our destruction, but not in terms that constitute acts of war, and we have not implicated them in any actual attacks on our interests much less our country. Yes, they are pretty clearly cheating on their obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but there is no provision in that treaty giving the nuclear powers the right to enforce its terms by the use of arms. I'm unaware of any actual casus belli that we have against the Iranian regime, unless it is the seizure of our Embassy lo these 27 years ago. And while there is no actual statute of limitations operative in such matters, it would be outright farcical to attempt to justify an attack on Iran on *that* basis. War on Iran, then, would set a new precedent: that the United States feels it has the right to attack any country that seeks to acquire nuclear weapons. Now, one might be inclined to say: what's wrong with such a precedent? Wouldn't the world be a better place if would-be proliferators feared the wrath of the United States? Perhaps it would - if the United States were immune from any consequences of its behavior. But try to imagine what such a conclusion would feel like in Ankara, or Jakarta, or Moscow - or even in London or Ottawa or Canberra. Even if we want to be the world's policeman, the world has not elected us to the post as yet.

4. The war would be unconstitutional. A war of aggression conducted without international sanction would be a very bad endeavor indeed. (We need no international sanction to make war in self-defense, but as noted, Iran's threats to America have been almost entirely rhetorical, and mere possession of dangerous weapons cannot plausibly be construed to rise to the level of threat justifying launching a war in ostensible self-defene.) But it is also remotely unlikely that the President would undertake such a war under authorization of a proper declaration of war by Congress. And that should trouble us very much. In the last 60 years, the President has conducted numerous wars without declarations. But these have by and large fallen into recognizable categories. Korea and the first Iraq War were police actions conducted under U.N. auspices. They were arguably not "wars" between the United States and another country but situations where that other country was declared an outlaw, and America led a collective effort to bring the outlaw down under treaties which obliged us to do so. In such cases, perhaps an "authorization to use force" is more appropriate than a declaration of war, as the latter makes "personal" between America and the outlaw country a matter that we have reason to want to seem impersonal. Vietnam, meanwhile, was an effort to assist that poor country from being subverted by a revolutionary group financed by its neighbor. We escalated to full-scale war by small degrees, such that it is perhaps understandable Congress never roused itself to recognition of the crossing of that Rubicon. Finally, we engaged in a number of small wars - Grenada, Panama - that were without our traditional "sphere of influence" and were hardly large enough to dignify with the name of "war." Virtually all our military adventures undertaken since WWII - none of which have been declared wars - can be excused constitutionally under one or more of these three categorizations. The main exceptions are the last three wars our nation has fought: Kossovo, which was pretty plainly illegal as NATO had not been attacked by Serbia; Afghanistan, which was plainly legal under international law and, as well, about as justified a war as could be imagined, but which obviously should have been a declared war; and the second Iraq war, which could be justified legally as both a domestic and international matter by saying that America and the President specifically had residual authorization under the U.N. resolutions that preceded and followed the first Iraq war to resume its "police action" when those resolutions were flagrantly violated. An attack on Iran that was not conducted under an actual declaration of war would meet none of these conditions. It would quite plainly set a dangerous constitutional precedent in letting the President undertake aggressive war without the consent of the people and their representatives.

5. We would not win the war. We have not yet won in Iraq, and I see precious little chance of us doing so. Pinprick air strikes are not going to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program; at best they would set it back a few years. There is a reason that the Administration has - in a not-very-serious way - been asking questions about the utility of low-yield nuclear weapons as part of an Iran strike. The irony of conducting a nuclear first-strike as a way of preventing nuclear proliferation is apparently lost on those asking the questions. In any event, it seems clear to me that if we struck Iran from the air, we would not be sure of success, and we would quickly become embroiled in a wider war - either within Iran, because we invaded, or around the Gulf, because Iran closed the Straits of Hormuz, or attacked the Saudi oil regions, or began firing conventional missiles at our bases in Iraq, or a combination of all of these. And even though we could quickly destroy the Iranian airforce, and would win a pitched tank battle quite easily, we do not have the resources to *subdue* Iran, which has nearly three times the population and four times the land area of Iraq. We invaded Iraq on the assumption that if we had sufficient force to win a battle with the enemy in the open, we would win the war. The enemy declined to meet us, and we have been losing steadily ever since we took Baghdad. Iran will be very different, as the state is much less fragile and more capable, and the country has much more national consciousness. This might lead the Iranians to make the mistake of fighting us head-to-head, but it also might mean that the government of Iran would successfully coordinate a guerilla campaign against a U.S. invasion. Lest we think that overwhelming conventional superiority guarantees victory, we should recall the German experience in the Balkans in World War II as well as our current war in Iraq. The Atlantic conducted a wargame of a U.S.-Iranian conflict a couple of years ago, and the result was very unfavorable to the United States. If victory is defined as anything more than damaging Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons for a decade or so, then I think victory will be elusive. If victory is defined as nothing more than this, then it seems to me that victory would be quite Pyrrhic in character - for the United States, anyway. For Israel, with much less to lose, such a victory would probably be sufficient. But we have a lot more to lose in terms of the collateral costs of conducting such a war.

6. War is not a general solution. Nuclear technology is now generally available. A host of European and Asian countries have the technical capacity to nuclearize already; several other countries could get there quickly if they felt the need. And then there is the long list of countries nominally further away from nuclearization who would love to get there quickly. The odds are that an Iranian bomb would accelerate the process of proliferation in the Middle East specifically. But the process is going to continue regardless. Between Russia, China, North Korea and Pakistan, the world has enough providers of nuclear know-how who will not kowtow to American wishes. And it is very hard to see how making war on Iran is any kind of precedent for a workable strategy of nonproliferation. We have not gone to war with Pakistan, and it is a nuclear power; we are not likely to go to war with Turkey if it decides to go nuclear. War with Iran would be a very expensive delaying action, and I'm not even clear how much delay would be achieved if what we're trying to delay is a world in which terrorists potentially have access to nuclear weapons. This is a depressing conclusion. But it does not follow from the fact that it is depressing that the conclusion is false, or that simply voting for war makes you less culpable for a bad outcome because at least you did *something* - any more than voting *against* war makes you less culpable because at least you voted for "peace." More broadly, I feel like the case for war rests in part on a kind of nostalgia for the good old days when the West could deal with threats from the South summarily. But the reason the West could do this was not just a matter of a lack of "politically correct" scruples back in said good-old-days. Nor was it merely a matter of technological superiority; we still have that in spades. It's also a matter of demographics. In 1900, Iraq had a population of about 2 million, Britain a population of about 35 million - a ratio of 17 to 1. And Britain found occupying Iraq after World War I to be an enormous pain. Today, Iraq has a population of 27 million, the U.K. a population of 60 million, a ratio of a bit over 2 to 1. And that understates the change in the ratio, as the U.K.'s population is much older than Iraq's; a ratio of males of military age would show an even more dramatic change, and a much less favorable ratio. In the heyday of Western imperialism, the West had an overwhelming demographic advantage over a South that was pre-modern, traditional, quietistic, and most of all sparsely populated. Today's South is still under-developed, but it is increasingly modern, politically mobilized and densely populated - and there are just a lot more of them. Strategies that might have worked 100 years ago are simply inapplicable today. I wish more war advocates understood this.

7. There is no rush, or it's too late. Iran is already past the point of having the capabilities to develop a weapon. They have all the technologies they need. It's too late to stop them by halting technology transfer. But they are still a few years away from a workable weapon. That means we have time to figure out an effective strategy to handle them, even if that strategy may involve a military component. This was a key point of Edward Luttwak's article in Commentary, and I take it to heart.

8. Nuclear weapons are useless as offensive weapons. Iran could not conceivably win a war by using nuclear weapons. The only rational use of nuclear weapons would be in self-defense against a conventional threat (this was America's war plan during the Cold War in the event of a Soviet invasion of Germany, and it is likely Pakistan's war plan today against a hypothetical Indian invasion), or as a second-strike capability against a decapitating nuclear first-strike. It is overwhelmingly likely that the reason Iran wants nuclear weapons is to deter other countries - preeminently us - from attacking them, and to give it greater freedom for aggressive behavior in its near abroad. America is perfectly capable of countering the latter; if Iran tries to "Finlandize" Azerbaijan or Qatar or what-have-you, that will only push many countries in the region *closer* to the United States. Until Iran has the kind of soft power that China has developed (which, on a much smaller scale, they could eventually develop - Iran has an educated population, after all, and is a better bet than any other Middle Eastern state to actually become a developed country), it is unlikely to win allies of genuine interest. If Iran tries to bully its way into regional hegemony, the strategy will backfire, even if they have nuclear weapons in their pocket. So the great risk is that Iran will do something profoundly irrational, like conducting nuclear terrorism against the United States or, more likely, Israel. This risk cannot be entirely discounted. But neither can it be a kind of conversation-ending catch-all justification for aggressive war. Those minds so dedicated to coming up with justifications for war should spend a bit more of their time figuring out how to deter Iran from doing what we are most afraid of them doing: handing nukes to terrorists. On the one hand, Iran has said some inflammatory things, and the current President is a complete nut-job. On the other hand, Iran's *actions* have been carefully calibrated, and Iran has not initiated hostilities against any country in a very long time. I certainly think we can make a strong case for a variety of coercive diplomatic measures to quarantine Iran as punishment for violating their NPT obligations. But I just can't see how we justify aggressive war on the basis that we "worry" Iran will do something crazy like nuking Los Angeles in the hopes we won't figure out who did it and turn their civilization into a shiny glass plain. In the end, the question of Iran's rationality rests on the question of whether the leadership of the regime is more like the Soviets - a bunch of dangerous radicals but aware of reality and eager to grow in power, not to commit suicide - or more like al Qaeda - maniacs whose sole principle is destruction for the sake of destruction. On the evidence of Iran's behavior for the past 25 years, I'm very much inclined toward the former rather than the latter understanding.

That's it in a nutshell. I could probably say more. I know there are answers I have not anticipated here to all of the points above. But I've been over this ground in my head a number of times over a long period. I guess my conclusion here means that I've finally left the "fold" in a definitive way. Where I've wound up, I don't know yet. I'll keep you posted, though.

I'm very behind on things I want to post here. And if I have any time to post, I want to post about the productions I saw this summer at Stratford. But I feel like I need to put down a marker on a handful of contemporary matters, so here we go: the next few posts give you my opinions on a variety of matters, with hopefully at least a little bit of supporting rationale, just so you know where I stand.

First, I'm against the torture bill, strongly. The specific techniques that Andrew Sullivan never tires of talking about - waterboarding, stress positions, hypothermia - are plainly tortures. They are "civilized" tortures in that they do not cause permanent physical harm; indeed, I've read that CIA operatives trained to apply waterboarding practice the technique on each other, which they would certainly not do if they were being trained to rip out fingernails. But they are plainly tortures, in that they are designed to cause pain and suffering, and break the prisoner by making him desperate to end that suffering. That's torture.

I'm not convinced that we need to go down this road. I'm very persuaded, in particular, by the argument that by formally legalizing such procedures, you will inevitably make them routine. That's certainly what happened in Israel when "moderate physical pressure" became part of the Shin Bet's arsenal. And while I'm both skeptical of making human rights the centerpiece of our diplomacy and generally indifferent to bien pensant opinion in Europe, formally endorsing torture by the CIA is going to alienate lots of people who are our natural allies, not only people who are already disposed to be our enemies.

I recognize the moral force of the argument for torture in a "ticking time-bomb" scenario. But if we really think there's a nuke in Los Angeles, and CIA officers torture a suspect to find out where it's hidden, and those officers are sued after the fact because they got the wrong guy, the President can always pardon them and take the political heat himself. I am totally unconvinced that we need to make torture legal and, potentially, routine in order to protect CIA officers from lawsuits. I'm far more convinced that what today is restricted to a "ticking time-bomb" scenario will tomorrow be applied for purely political purposes - as, indeed, there is some evidence was already done in the first months after 9-11.

Moreover, I do not think the Administration has earned Congress's or the people's trust in terms of what this bill actually says or how it will be applied. Even if, let's say, Arlen Specter were assured by the President verbally that, for example, this bill could not be construed as a suspension of the writ of habeus corpus for American citizens deemed by an unaccountable military court to be unlawful enemy combatants, I'm not sure why he should trust that assurance. At this late date, I think Reagan's old maxim - "trust, but verify" - must be applied to any legislation proposed by this Administration. And this particular legislation especially merits such scrutiny.

Finally, I am appalled that we are even considering legalizing torture while standing resolute in our refusal to apply appropriately targeted screening techniques at points of entry into the United States. This President has been willing to go the people demanding the right to declare anyone an enemy combatant and torture that person, but he is not willing to go the people and say that ethnicity, religion, age and sex should determine who is subject to more aggressive searches before he boards an airline. I can find no good excuse, and no good moral justification, for his preference in this regard. I wish the opposition party could oppose this bill in those terms, but unfortunately they will not. So I am left hoping they will successfully oppose it in whatever terms, because this bill should be opposed, and defeated.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

So Japan has a new Prime Minister. Elvis has left the building. And the question on everyone's lips is (naturally enough): what pop icon will Shinzo Abe model himself on?

If I might be so bold as to make a suggestion?

You see it, don't you?

Okay, before you laugh, look: they've even got a 5th Beatle!

Monday, September 25, 2006
This year's Rosh Hashanah menu was (drum-roll please . . .)
  • Fried whole sardines marinated in wine vinegar with onions, pine nuts and sultanas, served over greens
  • Chicken soup with shiitake mushrooms and chicken-and-shiitake-stuffed kreplach
  • Pot roast cooked in red wine with porcinis
  • Cabbage rolls stuffed with lamb and rice in a tomato and dried cherry sauce
  • Saute of butternut squash, carrots and bosc pears with mint and garlic in a wine vinegar and honey sauce
  • Chickpea and cucumber salad with cumin seed, preserved lemon and garlic chives
  • Honey cake (brought by my sister)
  • Plum cake (brought by my step-mother)
And best wishes for a healthy, sweet and joyous new year to you all.

Friday, September 15, 2006
Things I owe my readers:

- Reviews of more than a dozen books that I've read since I last posted book reviews.
- Reviews of a dozen plays that I saw at the Stratford Festival (well, one at Shaw) in Canada this summer.

I would rather be writing these things. Actually, I would rather be writing the book I never finished, or any of the books or screenplays I never started. But that's all one: I have no time.

So: some quick thoughts on things that are easy to have quick thoughts about.

1. The Pope had some things to say about de-Hellenization, and the media has picked up particularly on his comments about Islam, and the relationship between faith and reason in Christianity versus Islam. To whit (if I may simplify): in Christianity, because of its Greek heritage, reason is allied to faith. One cannot substitute reason for faith, but one can reason to faith and within faith. (I think I have that right.) In Islam, he implies (though the Pope never explicitly endorses this view), faith is beyond reason. There is, of course, technical reason within Islam (legal reasoning, for example) and compatible with Islam (scientific reasoning). But reason as the Greeks (or Plato) understood it, Benedict implies, is not an ally of the Muslim faith.

I have no idea if this is right about either Islam or Christianity. It seems to me that much theology is more technical and instrumental in its reasoning than its practitioners admit, and that as a matter of history Christianity has had its partisans of unreason as well as reason. But I did want to address a common assumption, that Judaism works in some way similarly to Christianity in this regard. It does not - anyway, traditional Judaism does not.

To some extent, Judaism is quite analogous to Islam, in that the kind of reasoning it engages in is instrumental - predominantly, legal reasoning. Legal reasoning, like mathematical reasoning, has an irreducible aesthetic component, but I don't think I'm wrong in describing it as instrumental. The interesting question is whether the rabbis of the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras thought of themselves as reasoning within a hermetic system or with reference to a larger philosophical framework. I'm inclined to believe that the rabbis of the generation of the Mishnah were indeed reasoning with reference to a larger philosophical framework, one recognizably influenced by the Greek philosophical tradition. But I'm less sure about the generation responsible for the Gemarra, which is a much stranger text.

In other ways, Judaism is more similar to Christianity. The notion of human beings as partners with the divine is much more Judeo-Christian than Islamic. The Jewish conception of God is not quite so "near" as the Christian, but is much closer than (this is my impression) orthodox Islam's conception. As well, neither Christianity nor Judaism is possessed of Islam's horror of history; Judaism is highly conscious of its transformation through history (albeit, obviously, a strict traditionalist would interpret these historical developments differently than a religious liberal like myself) and Christianity cannot without profoundly bad conscience avoid an awareness that in its own terms it is only justified by its own pre-history (in Judaism). Both of these have some bearing on Benedict's point, though they are not identical to it.

But in other ways, Judaism is quite distinct from either Christianity of Islam. The most obvious way is very much on-point to the distinction Benedict draws. Judaism is the only one of the three major monotheistic faiths in which religious obligation is passed down the bloodline. In Islam, all people on earth are born Muslims, and need to return to their birthright faith if they hvae been corrupted by their upbringing. In Christianity, all people on earth are born in sin, and need to accept God's self-sacrifice to be redeemed and born again as Christians. In Judaism, people are born as they are - and those who are born as Jews are born with specific (and un-natural) religious obligations. And we signify this special birthright with an act of violence: circumcision. (Muslims also practice circumcision, of course - for that matter, so do most American Christians - but it signifies differently.) My point being: howsoever Judaism may (with Christianity) exalt reason as the pinnacle of human faculties, the one that brings us closest to God, and the handmaiden rather than the enemy of faith, there are some aspects of our relationship to the divine that are indeed beyond reason.

2. Steve Sailer has written a good piece on a book I have not read, John Keegan's A History of Warfare. As I say, I haven't read the book, but from Sailer's description it sounds like Vic Hanson through a glass darkly. That is to say: Keegan and Hanson agree on what makes the West different from the rest in terms of the practice of warfare; it's just that Keegan thinks this is a bad thing, and Hanson that it is a good thing.

Which raises the question: couldn't they both be right? Couldn't the Western way of warfare be intimately related to the Western tradition of free self-government (as Hanson thinks) *and* horribly and ultimately irrationally destructive, as Keegan thinks? I don't see why they couldn't, and I can easily think of reasons why they could be.

Sailer is re-reading Keegan in the context of his opposition to a confrontation with Iran. I have a lot to say on that point, and no time now to say it all. (I've said some of it already elsewhere, but I haven't put all my thoughts together in one place.) But I will say this much apropos of Sailer's fears of nuclear genocide. He should recall that, in the 1940s and 1950s, there was a similar clamor in some quarters for a nuclear first-strike against the Soviet Union. And while this sentiment never became a majority view by any means, it was far from being confined to the lunatic fringes. People forget this, but no less a luminary than Betrand Russell advocated a nuclear first-strike against the Soviet Union by the United States in the early post-war years. He understood just how evil the Soviet system was, and he understood that conflict between free peoples and Soviet Communism was inevitable. He wanted that conflict to happen on the most favorable terms to the free world, which he believed obtained when the United States had a nuclear monopoly. Once two hostile powers had the A-bomb, the future of the human species itself was at stake.

It seems to me that commentators like Krauthammer are making much the same argument with regard to Iran. In their view, it's not so much that Iran is anything like as powerful as the Soviets, or that they ever will be. It's that they don't believe deterrence will work against them. If you accept that proposition, all else follows. The question, then, is why anyone would believe that Iran cannot be deterred. Once they have the bomb - and they will get it; I fully expect that - we will have to think the truly unthinkable: how to learn to stop worrying and live with it. Which means it makes sense to start thinking about that possibility now. The refusal to consider seriously a nuclear-armed Iran, the jump to the conclusion that such a world is synonymous with the apocalypse, is the hawkish parallel to the dove's refusal to consider scenarios in which we might use nuclear weapons. Both are evasions of the real world, intellectual surrenders. Both are more likely to lead to wars - bad wars - than a realistic appraisal of risks and costs on either side of various propositions.

Friday, September 01, 2006
I admit to being fascinated by the current debate over the name of the enemy. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and probably a bunch of other places - personally, I've been following it in The Corner, as if you couldn't tell.

As far as fascism goes, my guide is Stanley Payne, who authored a well regarded history of fascism. If I recall correctly, the key components to fascism are:
  • state leadership of all sectors of society and economy, but no elimination of private property;
  • wartime-like mobilization of the population as a whole even in conditions of relative peace;
  • a social vision of an "organic" society in which classes exist but cooperate to move society forward;
  • a cult of youth and feeling, and especially of violence, and a consequent denigration of tradition, rationality and bourgeois order;
  • a hypertrophied adolescent masculinism and denigration of the feminine;
  • hyper-patriotism, ultra-nationalism and the glorification of the military, even tending to develop a cult of martyrdom; and
  • the fuhrerprinzip.

I've probably left one or two items off of that list, but it's a good start, I think. Different movements classified as "fascist" had their own special traits. Something akin to Christian fascism did develop in Romania and, I would argue, in Spain, but that would not be a fair way to describe Italian fascism, to say nothing of Nazism which was aggressively pagan and anti-Christian. Japanese militarism was accompanied by a unique racial ideology, as was German Nazism, that was not common to the southern European fascist movements. But we call these different groups fascist because they have a common denominator, whatever the distinctions between them.

So: are our current enemies properly described as "fascist" or "Islamo-fascist"?

Well, the economic ideology of bin Laden is obscure to say the least, as is his political vision. I see no evidence that any of the entities that get called "Islamo-fascist" have embraced the fuhrerprinzip, nor that they have proposed any mechanism or have any plans for the total mobilization of their various societies. Iran, for example, has a political structure far more similar to that of the Soviet Union than to that of fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, and it is far from completely mobilized - they spend about 3% of GDP on the military. The Baathism of Saddam Hussein was indeed derived from European fascist models, but the Baath was historically the enemy of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. The ugly dictatorships in Syria, Iraq (under Saddam) and, for that matter, Pakistan and Egypt have at various times made alliances of convenience with Islamist groups and have in numerous cases actively sponsored their activities, as, for example, Syria does today with Hezbollah and Pakistan did with the Taliban and the Kashmiri terrorist groups. But a distinction must be made between patron and client.

On the other hand, Islamist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas do articulate an "organic" vision of society, albeit one that makes no meaningful reference to economic reality; they have developed a cult of martyrdom and embrace a hyper-masculinist ideology; they are driven by romantic ideas and their actions are sometimes rooted more in fantasy than in strategy; they are fundamentally youthful movements; and, interestingly given that they are religious in nature, they are basically anti-traditional as fundamentalist religion usually is.

So: are they fascist? I think that designation probably obscures more than it clarifies. What is probably more true is that their appeal is akin to the appeal of fascism; that they are popular for some of the same reasons that fascism was popular where and when it was.

But what I think is interesting in the debate is that the Corner-niks seem to be looking for some word, some concept, that will correspond to the Axis of Evil that President Bush famously identified in 2002 - something that will make it clear how the Iranian regime and bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are all parts of the same whole that is out to get us. But, in truth, the only thing that unites these disparate groups is . . . Islam. You could say, if you choose, that what unites them is "bad Islam" as opposed to "good Islam" and dress that good/bad distinction up any way you like. But *if* they are parts of a whole, *that* is the whole they are part of. There is no way I can see to square that circle, to name our enemy without making it either smaller or bigger than the folks in The Corner and, for that matter, the Administration would like.

The notion that World War II was a grand ideological conflict is belated anyway, I should mention. We were not fighting "fascism" in the abstract - we were fighting Hitler's Germany and Tojo's Japan, and we were only fighting Italy because the Duce chose the wrong side. And all of our alliances were at least in part of convenience; Roosevelt hated the British Empire, and dreaded the thought that the war against Hitler would be used by Churchill to extend its life and scope even as World War I had done, and Churchill, needless to say, hated Soviet Communism nearly as much as he hated Hitler. And our primary ally in Asia - the Kuomintang of China - had fascist tendencies. Even when we talked about the enemy in ideological terms, fascism, Nazism and Japanese militarism were the words we used for our respective opponents. The Communists were the ones who made a fetish of the word, "fascist" as the ultimate epithet - and they were as likely to hurl it against Trotskyites and other "social-fascists" as they called them as against the Nazis. It does nothing to detract from the idealism of that conflict to point out that our enemies were regimes that were trying to conquer the world - and had a decent chance of succeeding.

So who are we fighting? Certainly al-Qaeda. Certainly regimes or movements that support al-Qaeda. As well, we are newly aware of the potential danger from nuclear terrorism, and we are newly serious, or at least I hope we are, about preventing the continued spread of nuclear technology to hands that might be undeterrable - but that effort might involve as much hugging unpleasant characters and regimes, like that of Pakistan, as it does fighting them. Beyond that? We could say, with the paleo-right, that beyond that . . . nothing; we're not fighting anyone beyond that, and have no aims beyond wiping out al-Qaeda and getting better control over nuclear technology. Or, alternatively, we could say we are fighting "Islamic fascism" or "Jihadism" or "political Islam" or "Islamic extremism" or "Islamic militancy" or "Islamic terrorism" or what-have-you, and it doesn't much matter. Whichever phrase we use is close enough for government work, and whichever phrase we use there are only two bits of semantic content. One bit tells you that were fighting against some kind of violent political tendency; the other bit tells you that this tendency is to be found among Muslims. In other words, naming the enemy as such tells you we are engaged in a war for the soul of a civilization - but not our own.

Whether one can wage that kind of a war is a real question in my mind five years into the War of September 11th. I will content myself for now with pointing out that this was *not at all* the way we thought of World War II or the Cold War, the two conflicts which so many conservative pundits continually compare this one to. In World War II, the enemy was *out there* and we were out to *destroy* him. In the Cold War, the enemy was also *out there* but his tentacles reached here, and so we had two missions: to kill those tentacles and to stand guard at the walls, in each case to keep the enemy *out*.

Keeping Iran *out* in the sense of keeping them from attacking us directly should be pretty easy. We could squish them pretty thoroughly if they tried. How much a small nuclear arsenal changes this equation is a good question, and one I think no one should be too confident in answering, which makes it hard to say how much blood and treasure we should spend to avoid having to answer it. But of course, since 9-11 most of the terrorist attacks have come not from without but from within; the terrorists in London and Madrid were home-grown. It is in confronting the enemy *within* that this whole business of *naming* the enemy actually becomes important. What kind of language *separates* the terrorist recruiter from his community, as opposed to binding him to them? *That* is a good and interesting question, and one that I don't know the answer to. I suspect that "Islamic fascist" is probably the wrong answer, but that's just a hunch; I just don't think "fascist" sounds like anything more than "bad" to most people's ears, and Muslims probably hear the phrase and think it means "Muslims are bad" and nothing more. But the difficulty is that any language that would be both *precise* and *meaningful* to this audience probably has to be a native idiom, and there's no way that the authorities in London or Paris or Washington will be very persuasive using that idiom. In the Cold War, the enemy within was still *us* and we knew how to talk to and about them. In this war, that is not entirely the case, and we don't entirely know. But the exercise of trying to come up with the right language in this context seems to me to be a whole lot more productive than trying to come up with language to please ourselves.