No Exits?

April 12, 2011

 

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

So what is to be done?

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

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G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues. This essay originally appeared in American Thinker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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G. Murphy Donovan, check6dc@gmail.com

No Exit?

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

 

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

 

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

 

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

 

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

 

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

 

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

 

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

 

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

 

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

 

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

 

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

 

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

 

 

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

 

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

 

So what is to be done?

 

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

 

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

 

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

 

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

 

 

G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Betrays Us?

July 6, 2010

 

“If everybody is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.” – George S. Patton 

Crystal is not glass. Strike crystal and it rings like a bell. When it breaks, crystal makes a special noise, a sound like the end of music. The other day, we heard the end of a special elergy, the 24 notes of taps, when General Stanley McChrystal furled his flag.

McChrystal was no ordinary infantryman; he chose the road not taken. Rangers are a unique fraternity where only extraordinary warriors thrive. Those who rise to the top in any calling often walk a fine line between genius and eccentricity, soldiers are no exception. General McChrystal crossed the line more than once, but he never stepped on a land mine until Rolling Stone magazine came to do a “profile” at HQ Afghanistan.

The agent of McChrystal’s demise was an effete free lancer who looks and sounds like a prep school refugee. Lest anyone pretend the author of “The Runaway General” didn’t have an agenda, Michael Hastings coined the following journalistic axioms in an earlier piece for GQ:

“You pretend to be friendly and non-threatening. And over time you build trust, which everyone knows is an illusion. If the time comes, if your editors calls for it, you’re supposed to f–k them (your subject) over.”

Hastings was on special assignment for a magazine whose usual fare is sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Yet, like Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone has cultural pretensions.  Those affectations were on full display in the McChrystal issue. Lady Gaga (sic) graces the cover; equipped with a bullet brassiere on full auto. Ms. Gaga is a performance artist whose cultural niche is defined by Madonna groupies.

Like Hefner, Wenner panders to a young and, by their own definition, hip demographic of readers under 30 years of age; although both publishers might charitably be described as priapic geriatrics, 84 and 64 years of age respectively. Like all purveyors of progressive culture, Wenner has trouble separating value and vulgar. And, to no one’s surprise, he consistently carries water for the left; as a Clintonista or, more recently, as an Obama contributor.

From any perspective, we have to assume that General McChrystal, and/or his staff, was aware of these things and the risks of having of an anti-war zealot in their midst. The key question to be answered is; who was using whom?

After Afghanistan, a maverick like McChrystal wasn’t going to be selected for a political job like Army Chief of Staff. Hard to picture McChrystal, like the incumbent George Casey, making the rounds of the Sunday gab shows reminding citizens that the feelings of Muslims were more important than the safety of soldiers massacred at Ft. Hood, Texas.  And surely McChrystal wasn’t a candidate to follow Mike Mullen into the political swamp at the JCS. On the Pentagon’s E Ring, Mullen is better known for social issues, like gay “rights” for sailors, than he is for war fighting. There were no stars in McChrystal’s future either; he already had his four.

McChrystal is a country music fan; no doubt he’s familiar with Kristofferson’s iconic line: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When McChrystal let the fox into the Afghan hen house, he knew which huevos were in play.

Before the Rolling Stone controversy, the friction between the “White House wimps” and the military brass was the worst kept secret in Washington. Yet the rift, from the beginning was cultivated by the president – and what can only be described as a cabal of divisive beltway toadies. From the start, Obama ignored the field commander, refused to define the enemy or describe the end game – or explain to the American public why Afghanistan “is a war of necessity.” The party line had three “soft” features; don’t use the word “war,” don’t mention Islam, and restrict descriptions of the bad guys to either Taliban or al Qaeda.

Shortly after the election, Obama put on his long pants and fired the previous ISAF commander in Afghanistan – and then dithered for months over troop deployments. Since then, the White House has been driving on a learner’s permit. In the past year and a half, the commander in chief has met the tactical commander on few occasions; McChrystal, in contrast, has met with Hamid Karzai, face to face, over 50 times during the same period. If McChrystal claims Obama is only “disengaged” on the subject of war: the general is being generous.

The hapless Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D- Nevada), told America that the Iraq “war is lost,” just before the last American election. A newly elected Vice President followed up with very public carping at General McChrystal’s expense. If there were ever a toady who should be cashiered for loose lips; it’s Joe Biden (hereafter known as Joe “bite me” to troops in the field). Biden doesn’t just put his foot in his mouth; he doesn’t bother to remove his shoes after he steps in something. Biden’s advice on Iraq was to subdivide, i.e. three new states (sic), as if the UN didn’t have enough dysfunctional members.

“Team” Obama was augmented by Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry early on, both sent to Kabul, presumably, to make sure McChrystal walked the “soft power” walk. Unfortunately, neither Holbroke nor Eikenberry play well with other adults.

Holbrooke’s function in South Asia is a dark swan. He doesn’t seem to get along with anyone but himself. In the foggy world of diplomacy, androgyny, and cookie pushing; Holbrooke stands out. He is supposed to be a special envoy; but, his specialties might be limited to arrogance and petulance. Holbrooke, former Clintonista and incumbent Karzai basher, doesn’t play well with 3rd World leaders or allied military officers.

And Eikenberry’s performance isn’t too far removed from Holbrooke’s.  Soon after arriving in Kabul, Ambassador Eikenberry started to “back channel” McChrystal, (i.e. send critical, uncomplimentary reports back to Washington). Indeed, Eikenberry pique seems to have been tweaked because a Brit, and not Eikenberry, was appointed “viceroy”; a slight he seems to lay at the feet of a Karzai/McChrystal conspiracy. Eikenberry was miscast by Rolling Stone as a martinet “stuck in 1985;” the year may be closer to 1895 and the Eikenberry character could have come straight out of  Gilbert and Sullivan.

On the UN side of Kabul, the blue helmets were having a civil war of their own. Norway’s Kai Eide, and his American deputy, Peter Galbraith, had a transnational shoot out over the legitimacy of Hamid Karzai’s election in 2009. Galbraith got fired, Karzai got a second term, and Eide took the Quisling special back to Scandinavia. Eide was and remains an ardent fan of accommodation with the Taliban

These “team” players were supplemented by a gaggle of second guessers back in Washington with the president’s national security advisor, Jim Jones, on point. Jones’ most recent contribution to the clueless sweeps was a “greedy Jew” joke spliced into a speech that was supposed to underline American support of Israel. After 18 months in office, the commander in chief has traveled to several Arab, Turkish, and Muslim capitals, yet never to Israel. Mr. Obama’s Islamic globe trotting sends a message consistent with Jones’ taste in jokes. From the beginning, the former Marine commandant, like Joe Biden, also made loud noises that undermined or contradicted McChrystal’s strategy at the front.

So what’s a soldier to do when a president hand picks you to lead the charge in combat and then allows rear echelon cockroaches to eat your lunch? McChrystal did what any good guerrilla fighter would do; he let another insect carry a poison pill back to a dysfunctional nest. Indeed, General McChrystal performed one final service for his country; he used a press nitwit to expose a confederacy of national security dunces; using the prescribed “soft” tactics – things like toxic ridicule.

A cipher in all of this is Hilary; she comes off like the Cheshire cat; grinning from ear to ear while the Oval Office tries to put lipstick on another pig. Clinton has kept her distance; “give him (McChrystal) what he wants;” says she. If and when the Obama national security crowd self-destructs, Hilary can say “I told you so,” pick up the pieces, and do a pants suit rendition of what Bobby Kennedy did to Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

Any idea that McChrystal was insubordinate or threatened civilian authority is bravo sierra, as they say in the barracks. The general simply raised the blinds and let in some light. He even helped the young president to grow up a bit. On the day Obama let his field commander go, the president used the word “war” to describe the Afghan conflict. That’s progress! Obama then appointed a third field commander in 18 months; demoting the CENTCOM commander to replace McChrystal in Kabul.

And yes, the new guy is the old David Petraeus who, when serving in Iraq under George Bush, was vilified by the left, including then Senator Obama, as a liar and traitor. Indeed, the same news outlets that published those scurrilous George Soros ads, now celebrate the Petraeus choice as “inspired.” General “betray us” under a Republican has morphed into General “save us” under a Democrat. So much for politics stopping at the water’s edge.

So what’s the plan now? It appears the exit strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan is on schedule (according to Joe bite me) and Petraeus will be the happy face of at least one success even if it belongs to the previous administration. Yet, the president is still hostage to a campaign slogan, that “war of necessity.” Unfortunately, the Oval Office position is already flanked left and right. The incumbent does not want to carry any war, of choice or necessity, into the next presidential cycle. And the Cheshire cat just grins and waits.

All of which highlights the distinction between politics, Chicago style and principled soldiering, McChrystal style. Given a choice between sacrifice and survival, which road do men of character take? McChrystal has answered that question; he fell on his sword. Obama will get back to us in 13 months.

Stanley McChrystal may have furled his flag, but let’s hope he has not spiked his guns. In or out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat whose name we dare not speak will get worse before it gets better. When it does, real soldiers will need to strap on their irons again. Keep your powder dry, Stan.

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This essay originally appeared in the 29 June 10 issue of American Thinker. The author is a Vietnam veteran with 25 years of military service. He also writes at Agnotology in Journalism.