But why don’t they love us?

Afghanistan has exploded after a number of Korans were burned by U.S. officials at a military detention center.  It seems anti-American messages were scrawled on the covers, so they were “disposed of.”  Ever since word of this came out, Afghans have been rioting, killing NATO personnel, and demanding that  the Americans who did this to be tried in an Islamic court.  Meanwhile, the generals and the President himself are falling all over themselves apologizing, as our progress in pacifying the country melts away.

How could anyone in Afghanistan not know what the reaction is going to be from burning a Koran?  When that Florida preacher was considering doing it, Afghan mobs killed 12 people.

I’m not justifying the reaction, but the point is, the cultures just don’t understand each other.  We had better just leave.

Afghan protests over Koran burning spread on second day – The Washington Post.

When leftists want civilians to be like the military

Civilian society is not supposed to be like the military, though making it that way is the leftist’s dream.  So says George Will:

Obama, an unfettered executive wielding a swollen state, began and ended his [State of the Union] address by celebrating the armed forces. They are not “consumed with personal ambition,” they “work together” and “focus on the mission at hand” and do not “obsess over their differences.” Americans should emulate troops “marching into battle,” who “rise or fall as one unit.”

Well. The armed services’ ethos, although noble, is not a template for civilian society, unless the aspiration is to extinguish politics. People marching in serried ranks, fused into a solid mass by the heat of martial ardor, proceeding in lock step, shoulder to shoulder, obedient to orders from a commanding officer — this is a recurring dream of progressives eager to dispense with tiresome persuasion and untidy dissension in a free, tumultuous society.

Progressive presidents use martial language as a way of encouraging Americans to confuse civilian politics with military exertions, thereby circumventing an impediment to progressive aspirations — the Constitution and the patience it demands. As a young professor, Woodrow Wilson had lamented that America’s political parties “are like armies without officers.” The most theoretically inclined of progressive politicians, Wilson was the first president to criticize America’s founding. This he did thoroughly, rejecting the Madisonian system of checks and balances — the separation of powers, a crucial component of limited government — because it makes a government that cannot be wielded efficiently by a strong executive. . . .

In his first inaugural address, FDR demanded “broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” He said Americans must “move as a trained and loyal army” with “a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.” The next day, addressing the American Legion, Roosevelt said it was “a mistake to assume that the virtues of war differ essentially from the virtues of peace.” In such a time, dissent is disloyalty.

via Obama follows the progressive president’s model of martial language – The Washington Post.

The two kinds of warriors: Hector & Achilles

University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson has written a fascinating essay entitled “Do Sports Build Character or Damage It?”  The short answer is “both,” or “either.”  In the course of his discussion, which draws on his own experience playing football, he points out Plato’s observation that human beings have a need for thymos–the thirst for glory–but that this passion needs to be subordinated to reason.  Edmundson illustrates his points by contrasting the two major figures of Homer’s Iliad:  Hector and Achilles.

In the Western heroic tradition, the paragon of the humane warrior is Homer’s Hector, prince of the Trojans. He is a fierce fighter: On one particular day, no Greek can stand up to him; his valor puts the whole Greek army to rout. Even on an unexceptional day, Hector can stand up to Ajax, the Greek giant, and trade blow for blow with him. Yet as fierce as Hector can be, he is also humane. He is a loving son to his aged parents, a husband who talks on equal terms with his wife, Andromache, and a tender-hearted father. He and King Priam are the only ones in Troy who treat Helen, the ostensible cause of the war, with kindness.

One of the most memorable scenes in The Iliad comes when Hector, fresh from the battlefield, strides toward his boy, Astyanax. The child screams with fright at the ferocious form encased in armor, covered with dust and gore. Hector understands his child in an instant and takes off his helmet, with its giant horsehair plume, then bends over, picks his boy up and dandles him, while Andromache looks on happily. Astyanax—who will soon be pitched off the battlements of Troy when the Greeks conquer the city—looks up at his father and laughs in delight.

The scene concentrates what is most appealing about Hector—and about a certain kind of athlete and warrior. Hector can turn it off. He can stop being the manslayer that he needs to be out on the windy plains of Troy and become a humane husband and father. The scene shows him in his dual nature—warrior and man of thought and feeling. In a sense, he is the figure that every fighter and athlete should emulate. He is the Navy Seal or Green Beret who would never kill a prisoner, the fearless fighter who could never harm a woman or a child. In the symbolic world of sports, where the horrors and the triumphs of combat are only mimicked, he is the one who comports himself with extreme gentleness off the field, who never speaks ill of an opponent, who never complains, never whines.

But The Iliad is not primarily about Hector. It is the poem of Achilles and his wrath. After Hector kills Achilles’ dear friend Patroclus, Achilles goes on a rampage, killing every Trojan he can. All humanity leaves him; all mercy is gone. At one point, a Trojan fighter grasps his knees and begs for mercy. Achilles taunts him: Look at me, he says, so strong and beautiful, and some day I, too, shall have to die. But not today. Today is your day. At another point, a river close to the city, the River Scamander, becomes incensed over Achilles’ murderous spree. The hero has glutted its waters with blood and its bed with bodies. The river is so enraged that it tries to drown the hero. When Achilles finally gets to Hector, he slaughters him before the eyes of his parents, Hecuba and Priam, and drags his body across the plains of Troy.

Achilles is drunk on rage, the poem tells us. His rational mind has left him, and he is mad with the joy of slaughter. The ability to modulate character that Hector shows—the fierce warrior becoming the loving father—is something Achilles does not possess. Achilles, one feels, could not stop himself if he wished to: A fellow Greek who somehow insulted him when he was on his rampage would be in nearly as much danger as a Trojan enemy. Plato would recognize Achilles as a man who has lost all reason and has allowed thymos to dominate his soul.

This ability to go mad—to become berserk—is inseparable from Achilles’ greatness as a warrior. It is part of what sets him above the more circumspect Hector on the battlefield. When Hector encounters Achilles for the last time, Hector feels fear. Achilles in his wrath has no idea what fear is, and that is part of what makes him unstoppable.

Achilles’ fate is too often the fate of warriors and, in a lower key, of athletes. They unleash power in themselves, which they cannot discipline. They leave the field of combat or of play and are still ferocious, or they can be stirred to ferocity by almost nothing. They let no insult pass. A misplaced word sends them into a rage. A mild frustration turns them violent. Thymos, as Plato would have said, has taken over their souls, and reason no longer has a primary place—in some cases, it has no place at all.

via Do Sports Build Character or Damage It? – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This comparison, I think, can apply to modern warriors in the military, and to athletes, and to “warriors” in the business world and other professions.  It’s possible for a lawyer, a scholar, a salesman, or maybe even a pastor (you think?) to go so all out that normal human feelings are extinguished in favor of winning at all costs, exerting power over other people, and achieving glory.  They can never “shut it off.”  Even when this means harming their families and ultimately themselves.  (Achilles himself being brought down by the weakling Paris whose arrow hits him at his one point of vulnerability.)

This has to do, of course, with vocation, when the vocation is twisted into a means of aggrandizement for the self rather than love and service to the neighbor.

A new middle east war?

Our relationship with Iran is getting more and more dangerous.  As more and more of that country’s nuclear scientists are getting assassinated–with most people blaming Israel’s spy agency Mossad possibly with the collusion of the CIA–Iranian leaders are threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, that narrow gap of water through which much of the world’s oil supply flows.  This is in response to a new round of sanctions that would hinder Iran from selling its oil to the West.  America has vowed to keep the Strait open, and the navy is mobilizing.

Details from Anne Gearan of the Associated Press:

Tensions rising by the day, the Obama administration said Friday it is warning Iran through public and private channels against any action that threatens the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf.

Spokesmen were vague on what the United States would do about Iran’s threat to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz, but military officials have been clear that the U.S. is readying for a possible naval clash.

That prospect is the latest flash point with Iran, and one of the most serious. Although it currently overshadows the threat of war over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, perhaps beginning with an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear structure, both simmering crises raise the possibility of a shooting war this year.

“We have to make sure we are ready for any situation and have all options on the table,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, addressing a soldier’s question Thursday about the overall risk of war with Iran.

For several reasons, the risk of open conflict with Tehran appears higher in this election year than at any point since President Barack Obama took office with a pledge to try to bridge 30 years of enmity. A clash would represent a failure of U.S. policy on several fronts, and vault now-dormant national security concerns into the presidential election contest.

The U.S. still hopes that international pressure will persuade Iran to back down on its disputed nuclear program, but the Islamic regime shows no sign it would willingly give up a project has become a point of national pride. .  . .

An escalating covert campaign of sabotage and targeted assassinations highlighted by this week’s killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist may not be enough to head off a larger shooting war and could prod Iran to strike first.

The brazen killing of a young scientist by bombers on motorcycles is almost surely the work of Israel, according to U.S. and other officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. The killing on a Tehran street followed the deaths of several other Iranians involved in the nuclear program, a mysterious explosion at an Iranian nuclear site that may have been sabotage and the apparent targeting of the program with an efficient computer virus.

Iranian officials accuse both Israel and the U.S. of carrying out the assassination as part of a secret operation to stop Iran’s nuclear program. The killing came a day after Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was quoted as telling a parliamentary panel that 2012 would be a “critical year” for Iran — in part because of “things that happen to it unnaturally.” .  . .

Obama last month approved new sanctions against Iran that would target its central bank and its ability to sell petroleum abroad.

The U.S. has delayed implementing the sanctions for at least six months, worried about sending the price of oil higher at a time when the global economy is struggling.

A senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard force was recently quoted as saying Tehran’s leadership has decided to order the closure of the Strait of Hormuz if the country’s petroleum exports are blocked due to sanctions.

Panetta linked the two crises Thursday, saying an Iranian nuclear weapon is one “red line” the U.S. will not allow Iran to cross, and a closure of the strait is another. “We must keep all capabilities ready in the event those lines are crossed,” Panetta told troops in Texas.

He did not elaborate, but the nation’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, has said the U.S. would take action to reopen the strategic waterway. That could only mean military action, and there are U.S. warships stationed nearby.

via Tensions high, U.S. warns Iran not to block shipping | NewsOK.com.

Critics of the Iraq war said it was all about oil, a questionable claim, since the U.S. did not get oil out of the deal but rather hampered Iraq’s oil capability.  This war, if it happens, would be about oil.   Is that actually a better reason to fight than ideological reasons?

The story blames the Obama administration for bungling its foreign policy and getting us into this dilemma.  Is that fair?

Are you ready for another shooting war in the mideast?

Our new military era

At the Pentagon last week President Obama announced the new defense budget, which will include some cuts and will also herald a new military strategy.  Briefly, the president declared that the last decade’s wars against Islamic radicals are over.  And we will be pulling troops out of Europe and re-positioning them to face China.   David Ignatius gives details:

It was easy to miss the impact of Obama’s words: He was declaring that the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, is over. Al-Qaeda’s top leader is dead, and most of its cadres are on the run; secret peace talks are under way with the Taliban. And across the Arab world, the United States is talking with Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations that a few years ago might have been on terror lists. It’s a process that’s similar to the way Britain ended its long war with Irish terrorists, by engaging in negotiations with the IRA’s “political” wing.

What else will the shift mean? The Pacific focus inescapably means fewer resources for the traditional Atlantic partnership, symbolized by NATO. U.S. troops will be coming home from Europe, probably in larger numbers than expected. And given its recent economic jitters, Europe may feel abandoned. Will the Germans respond by drawing closer to Russia? Watch that space.

Obama’s pivot turns U.S. power toward China, and Beijing is understandably nervous. U.S. officials keep repeating that this won’t mean a policy of “containment” and that the United States accepts a rising China as a 21st-century inevitability. An Obama emissary was in Beijing last week, delivering that message of reassurance. But the Chinese aren’t stupid; they know that America is moving forces their way.

A period of rivalry and tension is ahead in the Pacific. One early test is whether the United States can expand on its recent opening to Burma. Another will be the delicate leadership transition in North Korea, which should be an area for Sino-American cooperation but might be the opposite. A third area will involve trade relations: Obama is pushing a ­“Trans-Pacific Partnership” that would create NAFTA-style links across the Pacific. But how realistic is this for an America that already has trade jitters?

As the United States changes its defense priorities, the wild cards are Pakistan and Iran, two countries powered by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of anti-Americanism. Pakistan, after years of chafing against U.S. tutelage, seems serious about reevaluating its ties, with its top general making a symbolic “we don’t need you” visit last week to the other superpower, China. For once, the United States wasn’t chasing after the Pakistanis trying to lecture and plead our way back to the status quo. That’s good, but Washington still needs a cooperative relationship with Islamabad, especially in settling the Afghanistan conflict.

As for the Iranians, they seem for the first time in years to be genuinely nervous — not because of U.S. or Israeli saber-rattling but because economic sanctions are causing a run on their currency and the beginnings of a financial panic in Tehran. And more sanctions are on the way this year. At some point, the Iranian regime will actually be in jeopardy — and it will punch back. That’s the scenario the White House must think through carefully with its allies. If the current course continues, a collision with Iran is ahead.

via Obama closes the book on the 9/11 era – The Washington Post.

On what grounds, I wonder, are we making China the enemy du jour?  Is this wise, this show of belligerence against the country to which we owe the most money?  Does this whole plan seem wise?

The Iraq war is over

Yesterday the war in Iraq officially came to an end.  The American flag in Baghdad was taken down, a somber ceremony was held (with no representation from the Iraqi government), and peace was declared.

The war lasted 9 years, with 4,500 Americans giving their lives.

So it’s over.  Where is the jubilation?  Where is the celebration in Times Square?  The Washington Post put the story on p.3.

We conquered the country and overthrew Saddam Hussein.  Doesn’t that count as a victory?  Why doesn’t it feel like one?  Do you think the war was worth it?

What do you think will happen now?

via As Iraq War ends, soldiers’ families reflect.


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