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Donald Rumsfeld and smart power

Joseph S NyeJoseph S Nye is Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author, most recently, of The Power Game: A Washington Novel. His last essay on Webdiary was Mikhail Gorbachev and the end of the Cold War.

by Joseph S Nye

Donald Rumsfeld, America’s Secretary of Defense, recently spoke about the Bush administration’s global war on terror. “In this war, some of the most critical battles may not be in the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Iraq, but in newsrooms in New York, London, Cairo, and elsewhere. Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in the media age, but for the most part we have not.”

The good news is that Rumsfeld is beginning to realise that the struggle against terrorism cannot be won by hard military power alone. The bad news is that he still does not understand soft power – the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion. As The Economist commented about Rumsfeld’s speech, “until recently he plainly regarded such a focus on ‘soft power’ as, well, soft – part of ‘Old Europe’s’ appeasement of terrorism.”

Now Rumsfeld finally realises the importance of winning hearts and minds, but, as The Economist put it, “a good part of his speech was focused on how with slicker PR America could win the propaganda war.” In other words, in blaming the media for America’s problems, Rumsfeld forgot the first rule of marketing: if you have a poor product, not even the best advertising will sell it.

Rumsfeld’s mistrust of the European approach contains a grain of truth. Europe has used the attractiveness of its Union to obtain outcomes it wants, just as the US has acted as though its military pre-eminence could solve all problems. But it is a mistake to count too much on hard or soft power alone. The ability to combine them effectively is “smart power.”

During the Cold War, the West used hard power to deter Soviet aggression, while it used soft power to erode faith in Communism behind the iron curtain. That was smart power. To be smart today, Europe should invest more in its hard-power resources, and America should pay more attention to its soft power.

During President George W Bush’s first term, Secretary of State Colin Powell understood and referred to soft power, whereas Rumsfeld, when asked about soft power in 2003, replied “I don’t know what it means.” A high price was paid for that ignorance. Fortunately, in his second term, with Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes at the State Department and Rumsfeld’s reputation dented by failures that in the private sector would have led to his firing or resignation, Bush has shown an increased concern about America’s soft power.

Of course, soft power is no panacea. For example, soft power got nowhere in attracting the Taliban government away from its support for Al Qaeda in the 1990’s. It took hard military power to sever that tie. Similarly, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il likes to watch Hollywood movies, but that is unlikely to affect his decision about whether to give up his nuclear weapons program. Such a choice will be determined by hard power, particularly if China agrees to economic sanctions. Nor will soft power be sufficient to stop Iran’s nuclear program, though the legitimacy of the Bush administration’s current multilateral approach may help to recruit other countries to a coalition that isolates Iran.

But other goals, such as promoting democracy and human rights, are better achieved by soft power. Coercive democratisation has its limits, as the US has learned in Iraq.

This does not mean that Rumsfeld’s Pentagon is irrelevant to American soft power. Military force is sometimes treated as synonymous with hard power, but the same resource can sometimes contribute to soft power. A well-run military can be a source of attraction, and military cooperation and training programs can establish transnational networks that enhance a country’s soft power. The US military’s impressive work in providing humanitarian relief after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 helped restore America’s attractiveness, and enhanced its soft power.

But the misuse of military resources can also undercut soft power. The Soviet Union possessed a great deal of soft power in the years after World War II. But the Soviets’ attractiveness as liberators was destroyed by the way they later used their hard power against Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Brutality and indifference to “just war” principles of discrimination and proportionality can also destroy legitimacy. The efficiency of the initial American military invasion of Iraq in 2003 created admiration in the eyes of some foreigners. But this soft power was undercut by the inefficiency of the occupation, the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the policy – initiated by Rumsfeld – of detainment without hearings at Guantánamo.

To be sure, no on expects that we can ever attract people like Mohammed Atta or Osama bin Laden. We need hard power to deal with such cases. But today’s terrorist threat is not Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations. It is a civil war within Islam between a majority of normal people and a small minority who want to coerce others into a accepting a highly ideological and politicised version of their religion. We cannot win unless the moderates win. We cannot win unless the number of people the extremists recruit is lower than the number we kill and deter.

Rumsfeld may understand this calculus in principle, but his words and actions show that he does not know how to balance the equation in practice. Doing so – and thus being in a position to win the war – is impossible without soft power.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006.
www.project-syndicate.org
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Stop disparaging Islam

Mike Lyvers: Why do you continue to make baseless and incorrect statements? Time and time again you have demonstrated your complete lack of knowledge of Islam. Individuals like you are very common amongst the Australian community, and I have since come to “pity the fool” who cannot comprehend the most basic concepts of the Islamic faith, yet offer a thesis of complex issues that are non-Islamic. I have also realized that many of your posts are based on hearsay, and that you don’t check the accuracy of your statements. Ironically, if it was an alternate, non-Islamic related topic, you probably would do a thorough research before posting.

You said, “Fortunately, the Muslims I know….tell me that Muslims who refuse to disparage bin Laden may be doing this because their religion forbids them from condemning a fellow Muslim to an infidel”. Stupid statements like that are derived by people who are “not serious Muslims, going to the mosque only once or twice a year”. Maybe if you actually spoke to people who went to the mosques a little more often you would not actually have said something as incorrect as that.

To begin with, we are all infidels. I, you, Hamish and every other human on earth are infidels since we reject certain doctrines. The definition of an infidel is “One who doubts or rejects a particular doctrine, system, or principle”. According to the disciples of liberty, feminism, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and every other deity or ideology, except Islam, I would be considered an infidel since I do not subscribe to their beliefs. Whoever rejects Communism would also be considered as a “Communist infidel”. Earlier I called myself a “liberal infidel”, since I reject Liberal doctrines.

Osama does subscribe to the basic tenets of Islam, which is belief in Allah and his messenger. Therefore he is a Muslim, albeit a bad Muslim, but a Muslim. You cannot call someone an infidel for committing a crime: that is one of the principles of Islam.

You also make the statement that in a secular society an individual has the right to practice his religion. That is absolutely rubbish. An individual has the right to partially practice his religion, but not fully practice it. Liberal countries cannot allow religions to be fully practiced as they would cease to become a liberal society. For example Islam does not believe in the separation of Church and State, and therefore cannot be practiced to its full extent in a liberal society.

What individuals are allowed to do is practice their religion within limits. The notion of “freedom of religion” is a deception which many intellectuals in my opinion have fallen for. A liberal society cannot function with Islamists, Fascists, Communists and other ideologies that reject liberalism. So, just like Sharia law, liberal societies enforce rules and regulations that minorities or majorities must abide by.

You said “What bothers me most about both the New Testament and the Koran (especially the latter) are (1) the incessant admonitions by God to worship me exactly as I say here, or suffer an endless series of elaborate tortures in hell for eternity”. You obviously have no understanding of the entire concept of Islam. Have you consulted learned people about this conclusion you came up with? You may learn a few things without belittling complex issues.

For starters, the idea of Islam can be surmised by the following: Allah created man and therefore knows what is best for them. In order for humankind to lead a prosperous, peaceful and culturally advanced society they need to follow the principles of the Koran. Any policy contrary to such will only lead society to chaos and would not give the prosperity that mankind seeks. This is a very simplistic description of Islam and I advise to seek people who are learned on the matter for advice.

You also said that science disproves Islam “time and time again”. Science has never disputed Islam and never will it be disputed. Islam has time and time again being verified all thanks to Science. From the uniqueness of fingerprints, embryo, mountains stabilizing the earth, Islam has continued to be verified by modern science. Islam does not at all say that the Sun revolves around the earth and the Koran has never said as such. Your reference of Ibn Baz, the scholar who allegedly declared a fatwa that the earth is flat and the sun orbits the earth, is incorrect. On his website (which is in Arabic) he completely refutes that he ever made such statements or fatwas. The entire episode is based on one interview which he had with an Egyptian journalist who misquoted Ibn Baz. The reason why this whole debacle stuck with him was because a certain minority within the Salafis are known to take the literal meaning of the Koran. Thus, if the Koran says that God has hands, then indeed, according to this minority, God has hands. This approach contradicts much of the entire Islamic beliefs and is therefore rejected by the majority of Salafis and Muslims (Sunni or Shia).

Also, there is no reference, as far I have researched, with Muslims being burnt for believing that the Sun orbited the Earth. In fact, as early as the 12th century, scholars had no idea what the Koran meant when it quoted that the Moon and Earth are in orbit. A famous 12th century scholar once quoted that “on matters such as these, we keep silent”.

Islam and Science are like twin sisters, and there are tens of thousands of books written in English showing the scientific miracle of Islam. My advice is to read such books, for it will help you refrain from making such false and inaccurate statements about Islam.

On a final note, I noticed that your post alludes that if a Muslim regularly goes to the Mosque, grows his beard and lives his life by the Koran (which majority do to an extent), they are somehow automatically terrorists? Statements like these go a long way in obtaining credibility my friend.

Disparaging Islam

Mahmoud, I appreciate your lengthy and considered response, although it certainly gives me reason to support the arguments for a values test for Australian citizenship. For the record, I never claimed that people were burned at the stake by Muslims for declaring that the earth orbits the sun (I was referring to Christians), only that a Saudi imam stated that this notion is heresy (and if your correction of his stance on this is accurate then I'm quite glad). I agree with you that science and religion should be twin sisters. If you believe in God, then understanding the universe through the scientific and cognitive tools we have would seem to be a kind of religious quest, a way to access in some sense the mind of God.

Finally, I never even remotely suggested that people who grow beards and go to mosque regularly are automatically terrorists. I did say however that if they do not support freedom of religion and the secular state then their values are obviously at odds with those of present-day Western society.

Toast: brown or burnt?

Roger, unusually, you have over-simplified the situation. America and its cronies, even if they have untold nuclear weapons, cannot destroy every Muslim country that doesn't toe the American line because our world would soon become uninhabitable.

Besides, as Vietnam, Iraq and the Palestinian Territories have clearly shown, brute force can never defeat lightly armed resistance fighters especially if they have a legitimate cause to fight for.

Belief in the "military might will always prevail" principle is a dangerous delusion. We need compromise not conflict or all we'll get is burnt toast!

Not Nuclear, Can't Harm The Oil

Daniel, it would not be a nuclear event, at least on the US side. The people are expendable, the oil is not.

It would seem that the three countries that you mention would be cautionary examples but there are significant differences between what would actually happen and what could be disrupted by insurgency as happened in Vietnam and what is happening in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

Vietnam was never a war that could be won because of poor leadership and a lack of clear direction and exit strategy. The Israelis have been constrained by the inevitable world outrage should they decide to eliminate Hamas once and for all. Such a move would rightly be called genocide because the Palestinian population would be decimated.

In Iraq, the insurgency feeds on the vacuum created by a collapse of the only viable power structure that Iraqis have known for decades and the fact that the US has to perpetuate the myth that they are bringing democracy to that country.

However, in a Muslim world vs The West conflict only the oil areas would be an issue. Everything within 100 miles of each oil field would be cleared and a ring of lethal steel placed around it. Anything outside those areas would be of no interest and no military significance. Response to insurgency events would be swift and brutal and no convention would be observed. As deadly as the COTW military intervention has been to the Iraqi civilian population it is relatively mild compared to what would happen if the gloves came off and all rules of war suspended.

A nuclear response by anyone would unleash the unthinkable but that is the whirlwind that is waiting to reaped. The delusion that you rightly point to is what animates the current US administration. They truly believe in "might is right" and "if you've got it, use it".

The real problem for the US is that they are staring down the empire highway and they can see the wrecks of other empires, most recently the British. The inevitable move of the US from #1 to #2 and then further down the pecking order is only decades away. The neo-cons believe that they are the true American patriots, and they have no friends and take no prisoners.

Roger, the oil is underground!

Roger, thanks for your thoughtful response. I'm a little unclear however on a couple of points. You say that: Daniel, it would not be a nuclear event, at least on the US side.

You also say that: ...the current US administration. They truly believe in "might is right" and "if you've got it, use it".

Which one of these positions do you believe will prevail?

Pragmatism

Daniel, the only interest for the US and other Western powers in the Middle East is oil. No military option could be considered that made the oil areas unsafe. The US has formidable conventional weapons not the least of which, depleted uranium munitions, has considerable consequences to the recipients, being still mildly radio-active.

A scorched earth strike involving nuclear weapons could be an option for terrorists except that the consequences are so dire that I doubt they would be used. Contrary to what the media may promote, the terrorist organisations have masters within the countries that would bear the brunt of US retaliation. This makes the use of nuclear weapons highly unlikely.

I have little confidence that any US administration, Democrat or Republican, is going to make a lot of changes. The US is the world hegemon and that monster must be fed or else the US takes an early slide into mediocrity.

Soft power and trust

While there was good support (myself included) for the invasion of Afghanistan to take out terrorists camps, this goodwill was blown on the shock and awe in Iraq.

Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with reshaping the Middle East for US military and economic power. The long standing plans for invasion of Iraq used the 9/11 atrocities to swing in to action despite no proof of Iraq complicity. Instead we were fed a diet of lies and misinformation that even on this thread at such a late time, is still is trotted out by the supporters of the political parties in power.

There is far too much credible evidence of the manipulation of facts to accept any assurances by the COW that they are in fact acting ethically. Any further attempt to whitewash the facts to paint the COW as acting only for the good of the Iraq civilians are a waste of time. It is too late. They have been condemned by their own words and works. What is less certain is how to make the best of scrambled eggs, not how to put them back in their shell.

Mike Lvyers: ”crazy ideas such as secularism, liberalism, and humanism" Maybe if the west started to display some of these traits instead of wielding the big stick and descending to the brutal level of some of their opponents in the name of a western God, then you might have a point.

Depressing, but I am a realist!

Mike Lyvers, I do not get upset when liberalist, democrats or other non-Muslim individuals or parties make incorrect comments about issues relating to my faith. To be honest all I have is pity. I pity the person who would make a comment about a faith without any knowledge of it. It's quite common, go to Wikipedia. You find plenty of these type of articles written by individuals who actually admit they don’t have much knowledge of the topic. Amazing how this is so prevalent in blogs containing topics related to Islam.

You said “But in no sense did the West "create" bin Laden. If he is a creation of anything it is Wahhabi Islam. I'm sure he would acknowledge as much himself.”

Osama is more likely to be inspired by the teachings of Sayyid Qutb, sometimes referred as Qutbism. Wahabbism is an ideology that is heavily based of the Saudi Royal family. Its adherents actually support the Royal family, something which Osama doesn’t do. Although Salafism is very similar to Wahabism, Salafist do not like to be termed as Wahabbi because they do not support the Saudi Royal family.

You said (earlier), "the propagation of crazy ideas such as secularism, liberalism, and humanism are [all] part of our enemies' plans to sow disunity in [our] society..."

Big Woop. Many peaceful Muslims believe that. Islamic theology and secularist ideas are not compatible with one another, which gives rise to a question: How could the nations of liberty be so tolerant if they do not tolerate Islamic theology as a governmental system? Aha, it's called white liberty!

Will Howard, this “Us vs them” mentality is not constructive in my opinion. Although, I would square the blame on Western countries for this ignorance. How could the majority of Western people hold such dismal views of Islam and Muslims when they haven’t read anything about Islamic literature? The fact is their views are derived by media and film outlets, and if these outlets were favorable to Muslims there wouldn’t be such a hostile climate between Muslims and Westerners, or more correctly, Anglos (I use the term Anglo because I am westerner too).

I will cite an example. When watching movies or series the antagonist in many movies are always Muslims, and what makes it even more despicable is that they portray the antagonist with either long beards or noble Islamic dressing, talking nobly about Islam and using the words “Allah Akbar” (God is Great), subsequently murdering  civilians. The effect is that when the audience sees the average Muslim doing his prayers or saying Allah Akbar in the streets, they believe that he is a terrorist. This, in my opinion, should be made illegal as the result is that it will continue to darken relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Even in newspapers we always happen to know the race, faith and even sect of a Muslim criminal who is an Australian citizen. But when an Anglo commits rape, he is often referred to as “a man.”

In the end, there is no hope for society, Muslim or not. Humans are less than animals, for animals hunt and defend for survival, while we wipe one another out simply to satisfy our desires. I once truly did believe that bridges could be “built” or that inter-faith dialogue will help keep an understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. I have realised that is not the case, and the only successful outcome is for either side to accept the others ideology. Muslims must either accept liberty or be cast out as a “liberal infidel”. As what Lord Bush says, “you’re  either with us or against us!”

Mahmoud, where's the problem?

What's wrong with people practicing their religious beliefs on their own, without trying to impose such beliefs on others? That is the essence of secular societies. How could peaceful Muslims be opposed to that? I have no problem with Muslims or Christians practicing their religions, as long as they don't bother me with such nonsense. And as long as they don't attempt to stifle the freedoms of others, such as the freedoms of speech, sexuality and expression.

Graeme, I'm sure you would agree that Western societies practice secularism, liberalism and humanism to a much greater degree than most Muslim societies, irrespective of the invasion of Iraq (which I opposed BTW).

To David, from the village idiot

David Candy: "Nye's reference to efficient invasion is about others admiring the US's efficiency - perhaps thinking if they are attacked the US is able to help them. It is not about striking fear into anyone - that is hard power... The Iraq invasion is soft power to Kuwait and hard power to Iran."

Indeed, David, that "efficient invasion" has perhaps as many layers as an onion. Game theorists will be dissecting it for decades. I suppose my maunderings here have been those of a moral absolutist, which probably makes me a bit of a simpleton.

Aye, 'Twas Ever So

That was a really apt blast from our classical past, Michael, thanks.

Because you would have the advantage of submitting before suffering the worst, and we should gain by not destroying you.

Smart power indeed, making a win/win out of a hopelessly win/lose scenario.

Lest this thread be perceived as an anti-American propaganda conga line, I hasten to add that the above proposition of the Athenians somehow made me think in particular of East Timor circa 1999. And perhaps West Papua circa now or sometime soon.

Lest this comment be perceived as anti-Indonesian – and then by extension anti-Australian, since the Prime Minister has equated the integrity of a unified Indonesia with Australia's national interest – I hasten to add that the principle extends more generally: Superior means of violence is classically, probably eternally, decisive in human affairs.

One of the few times that principle was rendered inoperative, at least to a significant degree, was during the protracted stalemate of the Cold War, with the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD, appropriately). The trouble was that such a system of mutual deterrence, as often said, only had to fail once to fail completely.

Of course, the end of the Cold War turned out not to be the end of history at all. Some here may be familiar with the declassified US Strategic Command document, Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence, which advocated that "part of the national persona we project to all adversaries" should be one in which "the US may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked". Commissioned under the Clinton administration, the authors noted with something very much like approval "the tactic applied by the Soviets during the earliest days of the Lebanon chaos":

When three of its citizens and their driver were kidnapped and killed, two days later the Soviets had delivered to the leader of the revolutionary activity a package containing a single testicle - that of his eldest son - with a message that said in no uncertain terms, "never bother our people again." It was successful throughout the period of the conflicts there.

The authors described this tactic as "an insightful tailoring of what is valued within a culture, and its weaving into a deterrence message", and "the type of creative thinking that must go into ... framing deterrent targeting..." They conceded, however, that such a tactic "illustrates just how much more difficult it is for a society such as ours to frame its deterrent messages – that our society would never condone the taking of such actions makes it more difficult for us to deter acts of terrorism."

The contrast of almost admiring approval, preceding a somewhat wistful disavowal of such tactics, suggests something like equivocation, or at least ambivalence, with regard to drawing back the standards of civilised conduct. So, as I suggested earlier, I'm not holding my breath for a civilising trend in the conduct of geopolitics. The stakes are high enough now and can only increase exponentially with increased competition for increasingly scarce resources.

As a favourite author of mine once noted:

Man is many things ... protean, elusive, capable of great good and appalling evil. He is what he is - a reservoir of indeterminism. He represents the genuine triumph of volition, life's near evasion of the forces that have molded it.

That "reservoir of indeterminism" is the wellspring of the glorious and hideous spectacle that is planet Earth under the stewardship of Homo sapiens.

Lest this be perceived as an anti-hominid tract ... well, er, I don't really have an answer to that. If this makes me a species-traitor, then so be it.

PS. Economic power is also

PS. Economic power is also soft power. American soft power is often transmitted via Hollywood.

Kill Us But You Won't Enslave Us

I no longer care about who was and was not in favour of the war. People opposed and supported the war for both good and bad reasons. Besides if I excluded those who disagreed with me I would have few friends left.

There is only one question. What do we do now?

Whenever I show signs of despair about the situation in Iraq, I visit some blogs of some ordinary Iraqi people. Such as this one.

Then I ask how can we abandon such people?

Fiona: Thank you, Geoff. Your comment and your link have moved me to tears. How, indeed?

What soft power is

You all misunderstand soft power. Soft power is attractive. It requires your active participation. Nye's reference to efficient invasion is about others admiring the US's efficiency - perhaps thinking if they are attacked the US is able to help them. It is not about striking fear into anyone - that is hard power.

American soft power is about what is good and admirable about American society.

Australian soft power is our universities, our rule of law, democracy, and how ethically we conduct ourselves towards those that give us our soft power. John Howard has been shifting our power from soft to hard.

Soft power is granted freely by others. Hard power is coercive. The Iraq invasion (for the sake of argument we'll assume it was successful) is soft power to Kuwait and hard power to Iran.

Soft power is being admired. One must have something admirable about one to be admired.

Islamic Totalitarianism

I described bin Laden as a totalitarian in my earlier post, and I want to emphasise that that is exactly what I meant to say and I stand by that characterisation. In my view al Qaeda and its allied groups are part of a new form of totalitarianism. I strongly believe that the ideology underpinning al Qaeda is a form of "theocratic fascism" as Alan Johnson puts it in his essay Camus' Catch: How democracies can defeat Totalitarian Political Islam.

Johnson's essay is the best recent piece I've seen on this topic. He notes:

Totalitarian Political Islam appeals to a bone-deep sense of humiliation. The anguished question: how did the very fulcrum of civilisation become dependent, defeated, backward, corrupt, and poverty-stricken? The Islamists answer: 'They did it!' - the Jews, 'infidels,' 'westernisers,' apostate Muslims, corrupt oil sheiks, and uppity women.

As Sami Zubaida has pointed out, the Islamists offer 'action and redemption' and 'an honourable identity to the disenfranchised and despised'. And we have seen that deadly combination before. There are ideological and psychological elements common to Totalitarian Political Islam and European interwar fascism - a deluded romanticism and a desperate reaching for transcendence, an eschatological irrationalism, magical thinking, and a search for order, purity without spot, and a society of granite.

In Salon commentator Paul Berman also notes the common ideological ground of bin Laden and totalitarians like Hitler and Stalin.

Roger, this is for you.

I cited this quote on the "They Hate Us for our Values" thread but it seems appropriate here, given your surprising attempt to deny the obvious (apparently in the name of some silly version of political correctness):

"the propagation of crazy ideas such as secularism, liberalism, and humanism are [all] part of our enemies' plans to sow disunity in [our] society..." (my emphasis)

- Ayatollah Nouri-Hamedani

It's A Firkin

Mike Lyvers, my opinion is that when people have nothing really to say they can always fall back on hoary old chesnuts like "political correctness", what ever that firkin' really means.

Please don't be suprised at the "obvious". It is always under our very noses if we would just squint and make the attempt to recognise it.

Regarding Nouri-Hamedani, I find that what he says is about on par with the stupidity that leaves the mouths of Bush, Blair and Co. The world has no choice, it seems, except to listen to the ramblings of idiots and devious political rascallions of every religious and political persuasion (my emphasis).

There are those of us who believe that true freedom starts in disowning the herd and not in the fore-lock tugging obeisance of intellectual pygmies and the dictator/shamans that would lead them. What makes the Ayatollah's brand of poison any less reprehensible than "God Bless America"? God better start blessing the whole firkin' world or piss off, whaddya think?

Rogerian discourse

Roger, to paraphrase you, it is my opinion that when people get called on a really stupid position they tend to fall back on the line "you really have nothing to say." And here you go again, asserting that bin Laden is a bogeyman of the West's own creation. I guess Sept. 11 was accomplished by the CIA or Mossad then? Where are you coming from Roger? Yes Ronald Ray-gun supported the Afghan mujahadeen, whom he stupidly called "freedom fighters," and bin Laden was one among many. But in no sense did the West "create" bin Laden. If he is a creation of anything it is Wahhabi Islam. I'm sure he would acknowledge as much himself.

Bush is a complete moron but even he would never call democracy and secularism crazy ideas that lead to the downfall of society. At least not in public.

The Reader's Curse

Mike, I can put your mind at rest, I never said any of the things that you think I did.

If you think that my statement is too nuanced, I'll elaborate. I said in my last post to Will Howard , bin Laden is a "killer of the first order". I think that pretty much says what I want it to say about that person. Now I don't know if you're confused yourself but I certainly know who was responsible for the WTC tragedy, a group of mainly Saudi Arabian terrorists. Is that how you understand it?

Now my real point, no longer nuanced, is that bin Laden is one person with perhaps somewhere between 1000 to 15000 followers dispersed around the world. These terrorist/killers are arrayed against the armies and financial/industrial might of the rest of the world. In other words, they are on hiding-to-nothing if they stick their collective heads above the parapet.

Al Qaeda do not enjoy popular support amongst most of the Muslim world but if you asked a Muslim, he would be more likely to say something in support of bin Laden than against him. The reasons for this are not very hard to work out, at least they are not for me, but they do not mean an 'Us' vs 'Them' conflict is looming. Like all people, Muslims like to eat, have sex, watch TV, take holidays and send their kids to good schools.

However according to the COTW partners, we must suspend civil liberties, habeus corpus, transparent government etc., all because bin Laden is "coming". Now Wahhabism did not give him that profile, did it? It has, if you read the recent US News & World Report article, supported him financially and morally but we cannot fail but to take into account that Saudi Arabia is a satellite within the US sphere of influence. These two nations are joined at the hip and no one passes wind in the desert sands of the House of Saud kingdom without the CIA/NSA knowing about it.

In any case, your last sentence is the most revealing, so I wonder why we are having this discussion?

Some examples

For some examples of current Islamic and Christian idiocies, see Bill Leak's hilarious column in today's Australian.

Roger, YOUR last sentence is most puzzling.

You seem to imply that if I think Bush is an idiot then I must somehow be more sympathetic to the Islamofascist theocratic cause. Nothing could be further from the truth. Islam and Christianity are primitive superstitions that have no place in the 21st century. (Thomas Jefferson said something similar about them in the 18th century, and I'd agree that retrospectively they had no place then either!) The real significance of the success of both bin Laden and Bush is the struggle between modernity and medievalism, which should have ended long ago.

Fortunately, the Muslims I know have nothing kind to say about bin Laden. But then again they are not "serious" Muslims, going to mosque only once or twice a year. And they tell me that Muslims who refuse to disparage bin Laden may be doing this because their religion forbids them from condemning a fellow Muslim to an infidel. Perhaps that's "the reason that is not so hard to work out" that you were referring to.

IslamoWhammoBammoMasticatedNeoRats

Mike, I just about fell out of my chair, in a belly laugh, at your super-duper labelling prowess.

For crying out loud what the effin' hell does that really mean. Fascism and Islam are not fellow travellers in the political sense. Theocracy abounds in most cultures though in the West its ambitions have been forced into a holding pattern.

Here's some very plain talk. Bin Laden and other opportunists of his mould are no more a threat to democracy than you or I are. In a confrontation between Muslim Islamofascist theocratists and the West, we win. Not a single question mark can be put over that. If the war gets fair dinkum then the Muslims are toast and the Middle East will be an enormous ghost town with only oil workers in attendance.

So who are you, or the idiot Bush or the immoral midget Howard or the unprincipled Blair afraid of? Why are we being subjected to a suspension of democratic principles when there is no credible threat? Who benefits apart from the military/industrial complex (to the tune of over 50 billion taxpayer dollars so far). Since when did a fight about the control of oil and the now-looming and very real conflict between China and the US for the position of world hegemon, become a 'war of terror'.

Prior to Sept. 11, Bush, Rice, Powell, Cheney and Rumsfeld said that they wanted nothing, that is nothing (for emphasis), to do with an expanded role in the world. America according to Dr Rice, in her confirmation hearings, was going to turn her attention inwards and was not going to be the world policeman. Osam Bin Laden was a minor nuisance who apparently was not a credible threat according to the Republicans (though Clinton believed he was).

However, such an irresistible opportunity did 9/11 present, that in short order, the neo-con war plans were dusted off, Halliburton, Lockheed-Martin and all the fellow travellers signed on and off to war we did go. You need a real enemy and Hussein really was not one. The US war planners knew that they could knock him off in a couple of weeks. So the shadowy 'war on terror' was foisted on the world. And what a bonanza it has become. The beauty of the plan is that bin Laden remains hidden (oh so convenient) occasionally popping out a tape so this big lie can go on for a long time.

In today's Age, a former CIA operative says that the US could have eliminated Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, bin Laden's #2, any number of times and did not, here  Now call me a silly fool but I think that is just a tad curious, n'est pas.

However, have you noticed that the "IslamoWhammoBammoMasticatedNeoRats" theory does not really fit into this scenario anywhere. A few Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson's of the Muslim-type have been rounded up and given air-time so that this merry dance can go on forever. It seems to me that you have worked some of this out for yourself anyway, but the "Islamo" thing is a sticking point. Fuggedaboudit, you're shadow boxing.

Islamofascism?

How about this definition of fascism, from Wikipedia:

Robert O Paxton:

  • "Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion." (Anatomy of Fascism, p 218)

Certainly many aspects of fascism as defined above DO apply to the jihadis. The term "Islamofascism" thus seems appropriate.

The rest of your post doesn't apply to anything I've written, so I'm a bit puzzled. I never said, and do not believe, that Islamofascism has any chance of defeating the West, a ridiculous assertion. Nor did I ever express fear of Islamofascism. Perhaps you are confusing me with someone else?

Paxton's Wide Brush

Mike, I see Paxton's definition as being an attempt to draw a lot of disparate strings together but I do not agree that it has much applicability in the Muslim context. A major sticking point would be "abandons democratic liberties". The over-arching profile of the recent Muslim world is ongoing autocratic/dictatorial rule.

Autocratic regimes have no need of fascist leanings, which Paxton tacitly agrees with, because there is no way to outwardly express "cults of unity, energy and purity" except in the person of the supreme ruler. These rulers rule by divine right, God being conveniently mute on the issue.

The fact that a few Muslim nations still remain or were recently dictatorships may seem to lend credence to a view that if they are not communist or autocratic then they must be fascist but in reality they are just expressions of how we can brutalise one another without any -isms attached.

A dictator, being a liar and a megalomaniac, builds cult that glorify him (not unlike the autocrat but without God on his side) so Paxton's definition also falls well outside the actualities of dictatorial rule.

It may be that I have confused you with someone else but then again you have writ what you have writ.

Religion, that dirty word again

Mike and Roger, I see you time and again expressing your views against any form of religion in this and other threads and you have set out various reasons. Religion seems to creep into so many threads one way or another! I guess this is one of your strongest statements to date, Mike, that Islam and Christianity are primitive superstitions ... have no place in the 21st Century. While you, Roger, in your comment to me on Roslyn Ross's post, All is not fair in love and war said Christianity in your view had failed totally. You argued that on the basis that it had failed to remove violence from the world in its 2000 year history. You also referred to Christians as being persons of misguided integrity.

I did reply to that before signing off WD for awhile but said I would come back to you on my question to you which was along the following lines:

Do you believe the world would be a more peaceful and less violent place today if Christianity had been long consigned to the history books and was no longer practised in any form in the world today?

I would be interested in hearing comment from both of you on that question. Maybe you could tell me whether you believe that Christianity makes any positive contribution whatsoever to society anywhere in the world today. Or does it as you say, Mike, really have no place at all, no positive role to play at all, anywhere?

If so, should the Christian Blind Mission for instance, just fold up its tent like the Arabs and silently steal away, and leave the blind children of the third world that it helps just to fumble their way through their world of darkness?

I make no apologies for being a Christian nor for supporting Christian causes like the one just mentioned. Nor do I need to push my beliefs onto others. But I find it hard to accept that people who are Christians are just people of misguided integrity. What on Earth do you mean by that, Roger? To me that is just a throwaway generalisation that could mean anything, or nothing.

You both must cringe every time someone says something like, their prayers were answered, eg those praying for the two miners. I think you would both be surprised as to the number of people who still do believe that there is a God of some kind or another. And who are you to really say that there is not. It is the one thing that neither of you will ever be able to prove one way or another, and that goes for me too. Let's face it. The human mind by its very limitations will never have the answer to that one big question: How did the whole show kick off and what kicked it off?

So if people want to make some sense of the universe and the world they live in by believing there is something bigger than themselves out there, and so long as they do not try to practice their beliefs in ways that harm others, why does it matter so much to you both that they hold such beliefs?

I always feel that if someone has a need to put down the religious beliefs of others, then they have some issue personally with religion, arising out of some negative life experience.

And just for the record, I do not believe that science of any kind, or rational thought or logic have any relevance to any debate about spirituality and religious belief.

Great questions, Jenny!

My answer to your first question -

Do you believe the world would be a more peaceful and less violent place today if Christianity had been long consigned to the history books and was no longer practised in any form in the world today?

- is that I honestly don't know. What bothers me most about both the New Testament and the Koran (especially the latter) are (1) the incessant admonitions by God to "worship me exactly as I say here, or suffer an endless series of elaborate tortures in hell for eternity," and (2) the effort to literally demonise all opposition by attributing any difference of opinion to the influence of a "bad god" called Satan or the Devil. These aspects of both Christianity and Islam are not just primitive and stupid, they are also a recipe for severe conflict. For example, the demonisation of Jews by Christians for many centuries in Europe eventually culminated in the worst mass murder of all time. Is this somehow balanced out by all the charity work that has been done in the name of Jesus? I don't know. Would such work still be done in the absence of Christianity? I hope so. But in the absence of Christianity, I also wonder whether there would ever have been a Holocaust. I doubt it.

Science has no relevance to any discussion about religious beliefs? People were tortured and even burned at the stake for declaring that the earth orbits the sun, contrary to the Bible and Koran. But the earth does indeed orbit the sun (and in the 1990s an imam in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa declaring that all Muslims are forbidden to ever acknowledge this!). Science has proven religion wrong time and time again, and will continue to do so. But as far as the existence of God is concerned, I agree with you that science cannot address this question. (For the record, I'm not an atheist.)

Mike: I meant to say...

Mike, I fell into what I accused Roger of, a throw away generalisation that can mean anything, or nothing. Risky things generalisations.

What I meant to say was that because science and logic and rational thought will never be able to prove one way or another whether there is a God or not, then there is no point arguing from those standpoints on the issue. Yes, of course, as science reveals more and more, any literal reading of the Bible or the Koran, or any religious text for that matter, is going to get one into some very boggy ground. So being a believer in a power greater than myself, I confine myself to the basic tenets of Christianity as expounded by Christ, and live my life by those. I think millions of Christians world wide do just that. No more, no less.

As to whether people like those working for the Christian Blind Mission would still do the work they do if they were not Christians, is probable, but by no means certain. I am married to a man, a scientist, who has no religious beliefs but I do not see myself as a better person than him by any stretch of the imagination. But of the many people I know, it is the committed Christians who are the most proactive in charitable works.

I did not follow the thread on whether we are a meaner society, but if it can be shown that we are, (in a time of relative economic prosperity) then the concurrent move away from Christianity by our young people over the past three decades, may tell us something. I see so many of them directionless in their lives, turning to drugs to brighten up the barren spiritual landscape they live in, taking and never giving. And they are taking their own lives in record numbers.

As to your comments on the holocaust. That is a tough call! Genocide has been a part of history long before Christianity arrived on the scene. Roger would argue of course that Christianity has failed, in that it should have put paid to violence in society, thus making genocide a thing of the past. Well I can't go along with that. If you commit genocide, you are not a Christian. And I think the causes of the holocaust are a bit more complex than what you suggest.

Anyway, I've probably got some of my more illustrious forebears turning over in their graves at this point so I am out of here. It's late. Cheers.

Sorry I Missed It

Jenny, I apologise for my tardy response but I missed your question to me.

I am not all that confident that I can give a short answer and I am hesitant to give a too long one in this forum.

My statement about the total failure of Christianity relies, for its justification and force, on the state of peace, justice and human dignity in the world, measured at any point in time since Constantine formalised Christianity as the official religion of his empire.

The Constantine initiative intertwined religion with State power, a condition which is still evident, though greatly weakened, today.

The starting point for any such examination, as I am attempting, has to start with the acceptance of a historical Jesus and an acceptance of his divine nature. Putting aside any arguments about the truth of such an acceptance, and there are many and powerful arguments to the contrary, we are left with four gospels (at least officially) as our only historical narrative of Christ's life.

The gospels paint a very compelling picture of a simple and mission-driven man. Christ's adult life is clearly spent in the company of ordinary people and social outcasts and he repudiates, on many occasions, a life of comfort and power as categorised by the establishment of the day.

So immediately one sees that the political and popular rise of Christianity is in the company of and under the aegis of the very people that Jesus repudiated and castigated.

In legal circles, especially in criminal law, one encounters the concept of "the fruit of the poisonous tree" where information obtained illegally makes all following events and outcomes from the original event legally "poisoned" and with no other options available except to completely discard any knowledge or discoveries.

An analogy can be drawn, that in the case of what happened at the Council of Nicea, the idea that Christianity had a valid role as the partner of the state is an anathema to any role that God himself in the person of Jesus exhorted from ordinary people. The idea that the people of the Christian God would be ruled by a priestly class that relied on political patronage is nothing that can be found in the four gospels.

From this very tawdry being, Christianity has continued to be a handmaiden of the state and for a period of time, under Charlemagne, was the state. Under this unholy alliance we have seen the destruction of lives and property in every century since 325AD with the Church either at the forefront or a missionary rearguard come to reclaim the lost souls whose lives and culture have been decimated.

The nature of Christianity is such that it requires apologetics of the most energetic kind to make leaps of imagination and the most torturous and evil logic to bolster its position. It has taken under the umbrella of sainthood such assassins of the natural character, the one that comes with the gift of life, as Augustine and Aquinas.

The penitent and servile relationship between the church hierarchy and worshippers is an ongoing phenomenon where Popes and bishops would seek to disrupt the free exercise of mind and conscience.

The saving grace of all churches is supposedly their good works. I am reminded constantly of how Christian charities make a difference and yet as Roslyn Ross says so persuasively in her piece How aid ails Africa, it is to very little avail.

The world is a dangerous place, self-professed Christian leaders of self-described Christian nations see nothing wrong with killing tens of thousands of people in the name of a democratic ideal that has naught to do with a life lived in the service of Christ. We see self-professed Christian political leaders in this country who would exclude traumatised refugees in complete contradiction of the exhortation to love one's neighbour and to help those in need but instead to replace that obligation with "We will determine who comes into this country".

But this is not modern day aberration; it has happened in every century in countless conflicts all driven by those who invoked Christ as their "mighty arm" and who professed Him as the guiding force of their lives.

By any measure, except the accumulation of fabulous wealth beyond imagination and the assiduous development of powerful patronage, Christianity is a total failure and an irrelevancy for those of us who want to live in some measure of peace and harmony with the world and the living things in it.

Those who want to live a life in Christ will not find it in any church that they wish to attend. To be a Christian in the mould of the exemplar requires an extraordinary dedication to an extraordinary life. Those who have been fortunate to meet a true follower of Christ would immediately know the difference. Here Christianity once again plainly fails because it only expects and rewards servile mediocrity. A returning Christ would not get a guernsey in any one of the churches. He would be viewed as rabble-rouser and troublemaker. Strange how we have come to laud and seek to aspire to a caricature of Christ's life.

Fair enough, JHC

John Henry Calvinist: "I was pleased to see that at least some of them are reflecting on that process, and attempting to broaden the bases of their analyses..."

Fair enough, JHC, and praise the Lord for those small mercies.

But now, "rather than attack Nye for not doing better, at this stage, I think we should rather be pleased..."??

I'm sure you're not suggesting that we should all just nod serenely and move on to the next topic.

Anyway, I'm still rather sceptical that Nye is, as you say, "onto something" with this formulation of hard versus soft versus smart power. Rather it's a somewhat slick reformulation of all the tried-and-true sticks and carrots out of the hegemonic toolbox.

I can't really see any indication in this article of any fundamental shift in the approach to the wielding of power. Whether hard or soft or smart, it presumes the legitimacy of the US to exercise its sole superpower status in the pursuit of whatever half-baked enterprise the incumbent administration sees fit.

It's only that now, after the chastening effects of the Iraq debacle, the mood is perhaps favourable for some slightly less-hawkish hawks. I'm not going to hold my breath for this little fancy to morph into anything truly paradigm-shaking.

Art for art's sake/Power for power's sake

"Anyway, I'm still rather sceptical that Nye is, as you say, "onto something" with this formulation of hard versus soft versus smart power. Rather it's a somewhat slick reformulation of all the tried-and-true sticks and carrots out of the hegemonic toolbox."

As it ever was Jacob. This is new? Read the following exchange written by Thucydides some and a half thousand years ago as he chronicled the great war courted and fought by the world's first imperial democratic state:

Athenians. For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences… and in return we hope that you … holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must…

We will now proceed to show you that we are come here in the interest of our empire, and that we shall say what we are now going to say, for the preservation of your country; as we would fain exercise that empire over you without trouble, and see you preserved for the good of us both.

Melians. And how, pray, could it turn out as good for us to serve as for you to rule? 

Athenians. Because you would have the advantage of submitting before suffering the worst, and we should gain by not destroying you.

Melians. So that you would not consent to our being neutral, friends instead of enemies, but allies of neither side.

Athenians. No; for your hostility cannot so much hurt us as your friendship will be an argument to our subjects of our weakness, and your enmity of our power.

Melians. Is that your subjects' idea of equity, to put those who have nothing to do with you in the same category with peoples that are most of them your own colonists, and  some conquered rebels?

Athenians. As far as right goes they think one has as much of it as the other, and that if any maintain their independence it is because they are strong, and that if we do not molest them it is because we are afraid; so that besides extending our empire we should gain in security by your subjection; the fact that you are islanders and weaker than others rendering it all the more important that you should not succeed in baffling the masters of the sea.

An interesting example of realpolitik, if not to say machpolitik in action. Soft power? Not likely, hard power and very definitely smartpower. The images translate readily enough. Athens would not allow an island (Melos) its independence because, as a maritime empire, this was unacceptable.

The US as the cultural, military – and more importantly, economic – hegemon of the current time dislikes similar challenge to its position. How it responds to those challenges – terrorist, economic and military – will define it as a pre-eminent power.

Melians. Well then if you risk so much to retain you empire and your subjects to get rid of it, it were surely great baseness and cowardice in us who are still free not to try everything that can be tried, before submitting to your yoke.

Athenians. Not if you are well advised, the contest not being an equal one, with honour as the prize and shame as the penalty, but a question of self-preservation and of not resisting those who are far stronger than you are.

Melians. But we know that the fortune of war is sometimes more impartial than the disproportion of numbers might lead one to suppose; to submit is to give ourselves over to despair, while action still preserves for us a hope that we may stand erect.

Athenians. Hope, danger's comforter, may be indulged in by those who have abundant resources, if not without loss at all events without ruin; but its nature is to be extravagant, and those who go so far as to put their all upon the venture see it in its true colours only when they are ruined; but so long as the discovery would enable them to guard against it, it is never found wanting.

Yes, fascinating words those last. The year was 416 BC. Three years later, the Athenians, who went "so far (in 415) as to put their all upon the venture" of the "Sicilian expedition" reaped the promise of the historian's words:

They were beaten at all points and altogether; all that they suffered was great; they were destroyed, as the saying is, with a total destruction, their fleet, their army, everything was destroyed, and few out of many returned home.

In total some 35,000 men and 190 ships of the battle fleet (of 270 odd at the time).

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.  This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children.  This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.  By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic…

We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.

With luck Iraq (and possibly Iran) will not become the United State's Sicily. With foresight – sorely lacking during2002/3 – Tehran will not become Syracuse harbour 413 BC.

The Mother-in-law's nightie

Well, now wouldn't that rip the rear out of your mother-in-law's nightie! Gone and forgot the all important two in two and a half thousand. Don't write at two in the morning, Michael.

I doubt very much that Thucydides was writing a half thousand years ago. Were he to do so, it would be from Venice methinks.

The Melian Dialogue was, of course, constructed by the historian and patterned after attitude that Athens displayed towards other states – allies, enemies or in this case, neutral. As such it is an observation of the use of power – in this instance, raw military power.

There exist marvellous parallels all throughout the history of this period and the ensuing conflicts. The trigger used to precipitate the war was diplomatic thuggery: banning the important trading city of Megara from using "Athenian" harbours and markets. This in effect meant the entire Aegean basin and Asia Minor. Sound familiar? You may as well call it a crude form of sanction regime.

As well, the empire of Athens was created out of a "protection racket" and enforced by the single largest navy in the western Mediterranean. The excuse was originally to keep out the evil empire: Persia. Later it was to protect commerce from piracy and ensure the free operation of markets and trade in the time's "oil": grains. Which trade – coincidentally – was Athens’ lifeblood.

Nothing much changes under the sun. All the hegemonic forms power and coercion were deployed, used, and abused, by Athens.

All of which is not to describe the US as a democratic thug with grand imperial designs. The parallels exist though.

Night attire?

Michael, I would have to say that yours is one of the most intriguing statements that I've encountered on Webdiary in a long while. Could you possibly throw some light on (or perhaps preferably, give some information about) its provenance?

Doesn't really "bare" the

Doesn't really "bare" the going into!

The provenance? A favourite saying of the "Old Man". Given that he'd – evidently – little interest in the voyeuristic advantages of a rear-removed nightie upon the person of my grandmother (something with which I'd agree), it was uttered whenever the world resolutely refused to co-operate.

It remains as pertinent a display of frustration today as then. We won't investigate the many others....

Us and Them

Thank you Will, for the courage of posting an argument that you felt was going to be shouted down (which I am now going to do).

The real problem I have is the Us and Them approach. US foreign policy is first and foremost “look after US interests” and a belated second, if it can be done without damaging policy one, “promote the rah rah rah stuff like democracy, freedom etc.” That is not particularly wrong, as long as the US is honest about this, and does not apply “power” and coercion. It certainly shouldn’t pretend to be the world’s policeman with this agenda. A real policeman would protect the community’s lives above their own.

Your comment about we’re at war implies that you believe “they started it”, and who started it can probably be taken back further than Mohammed and Jesus to Cain and Abel. My understanding is that Bin Laden sees himself as defending Saudi Arabia from a US invasion and occupation. The US does not simply look away from despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia (who are, in independent rankings, considered as bad as the ones the US openly condemns), it actively helps them get into and maintain power. (I gather that the Bin Laden has been successful, and that the US is relocating its bases to Iraq.)

War is a tool of competition, rather than collaboration. Competition is built on the principle of scarcity, that there is a limited pie, and if you get a piece, then it means I get less. That is one of the fundamental flaws that drives our market model and shapes our thinking.

On "Realism" in Foreign Policy

Jacob ... the way I read Nye was that he seems to be a "realist" rather than a "neocon" (in US foreign policy terms, these are both longstanding schools of thought)...and that this brief piece was mainly an attempt to persuade his fellow realists to be much more aware - and much less dismissive of - what he terms "soft power". Since the realist persuasion is a highly influential (in fact, mainly dominant) one, which will undoubtedly gain strength, rather than otherwise from the collapse of the neocon project, I was pleased to see that at least some of them are reflecting on that process, and attempting to broaden the bases of their analyses, however much I'd like to see some much more thoroughgoing self-criticism.

Remember...it was "realism" which drove much/most of US support for corrupt dictatorships (as long as they were "our" dictatorships)...with the damaging results that are only too clear. So, rather than attack Nye for not doing better, at this stage, I think we should rather be pleased that a narrow (and mainly dominant) tradition is showing some signs of reform.

Abstraction and the moral universe

JHC, the proposition that Mr Nye is "playing rhetorical games re recent history", whether directly or indirectly, is yours.

I'm open to any explanation as to why, for instance, Nye regards a) the "efficient" invasion of Iraq, and b) the "US military’s impressive work in providing humanitarian relief after the Indian Ocean tsunami", both as being more or less equivalent as examples of the exercise of "soft power".

Perhaps at a certain level of abstraction, they are equivalent, but at that point they cease to have meaning in a moral universe.

I'm sure just about anyone reading Nye's piece is capable of appreciating the abstract modes of "power-projection" the author has defined as "hard" and "soft" (however woolly those definitions may be). But like any abstraction, as I'm sure you'll appreciate, this schema has limitations that can cloud as well as clarify understanding.

The merit of both the Iraq invasion and the tsunami relief operation seem to be resolved in terms of their apparent PR value. Actions cease to be judged in terms of moral weight, or objective merit, or even utilitarian effectiveness, but instead by the most ephemeral of criteria, which (surprise!) are tilted towards the objectives of the current US administration.

Such abstractions also have the effect of sucking us imperceptibly into the moral twilight inhabited by game theorists and bean counters. "Transactions" are evaluated exclusively in terms of cost/benefit within narrowly defined objectives and constraints, while moral imperatives and purpose become sidelined, if not irrelevant.

That's not the calculus I'd want to see guiding the progress of my civilisation. Have we ceased to be moral beings, instead becoming cellular entities that modulate aggregate behaviours and "trends"?

Sowing and Reaping

The parallels between this article and the hollow heart of medical science are chilling. If we truly are a democracy, why are we constructing such a world?

Disagreement

Can't say that I'm necessarily in favour of the columnist here...but - unlike the direct comments I've read so far - I do think he's onto something. And, so...a few (very substantial) quibbles:

Steve Wallace thinks the notion of a "just war" an absurdity - presumably including a purely defensive war (because, that has always been the central case in such models)? And, Jacob, I honestly don't think he's directly playing rhetorical games re recent history - which makes your entire argument basically beside the point. Instead, he's attempting to do what he originally said - to assess the success of different forms of power-projection in a rather abstract way. And, as I said, I do think he's onto something, even if this version of that idea is somewhat lacking.

Perhaps we should all attempt to re-think this, instead of simply dismissing it out of hand - since, as I said, I do think he's onto something, even if there are major weaknesses in what he's said?

All the best.

Going soft on hard power

John Henry Calvinist writes: "Perhaps we should all attempt to re-think this, instead of simply dismissing it out of hand - since, as I said, I do think he's onto something, even if there are major weaknesses in what he's said."

Nye's essay goes neatly with some points that have come up over at the "They Hate Us for Our Values" thread, before they were shouted down as irrelevant, disruptive, dishonest, counterrevolutionary, and who-knows-what-other ideological heresies.

There is a war, and it's been declared by al Qaeda and their various franchisees on "us." "Us" in this case generally means the "West," but the declaration of war is also on "modernity" as represented by liberal democracy, freedom of religion, and other such newfangled concepts. Most proximally the war is on Muslims who don't share bin Laden & Co's vision of Islam, how it should be practised, how it should project itself onto the global stage and civil society. The fact is that most victims of the Islamic extremists are their fellow Muslims. So in one sense Nye is correct in pointing to a "civil war" being waged within the Islamic world.

Most important, and often lost in the blind, shrill denunciations of Bush, Howard, Blair. et al. is what bin Laden & Co. "hate" about "us." They hate our virtues, the openness of our societies, our readiness (in general) to accept people of a wide range of ehtnic backgrounds and beliefs. All the principles we honour, but too often do so in the breach, are what they are willing to kill us for.

Bin Laden is not saying, "Bush, you should shut down Guantanamo Bay and be true to the finest traditions of American rule of law and jurisprudence. Howard, you should scrap those silly sedition laws, as they violate the very freedoms you claim to uphold. Blair, that anti-terror legislation is an insult to the centuries of liberal development which Britain has led." Zarqawi is not saying, "come on you guys, raise your game and act like a real liberal society."

No, what these guys hate is our game. The very idea of democracy is anathema to them.

Acceptance of other religions? Fuggedaboudit! Equality for women? What a laugh! Homosexuals? Death to them. Freedom of expression? Dare to publish that essay, and we'll cut your kids' hands off.

This is a war, but Nye is right that it will take some soft power to win it. Because of all the people on the fence, who could go either way. Some of them have legitimate criticisms of the "West" and/or grievances against "us" (like the fact that we've looked the other way while their rich despotic rulers abused them, and the way we've treated their countries like big petrol stations). Many of them admire us for our values, and are attracted to our societies. They're disillusioned when they see us not living up to those ideals, and this does leave them vulnerable to the ideological depredations of the Zarqawistas.

You do not need to love Dubya, John, and Tony to recognise this. You do not need to be a Bush, Howard, or Blair supporter to recognise that this war started well before they were in office.

I Have Re-Read

Will, in an effort to make sure that I have not misread the intention of your post, I will address some of it in "your quote-my comment" form.

WH: There is a war, and it's been declared by al Qaeda and their various franchisees on "us."

 RF: This is a legal stretch which cannot succeed. War as understood and written about is between nations. Any other form of action which involves the taking of innocent civilian life can be rightly termed "guerilla" ('little' war literally, if within a country), "civil" which requires no explanation and "terrorist" if it occurs over trans-national boundaries. And I almost forgot, the grotesquely obscene "collateral damage", a purely US-invented piece of sophistry to mask flesh, blood, bones and brains splattered over mud brick or other rustic walls and dirt roads.

To sum up there is no war, only a reaction to terrorism. To call it a war, as the establishment that forms the COTW do unceasingly, is a lie with the sole purpose of obfuscation.

WH: "Us" in this case generally means the "West," but the declaration of war is also on "modernity" as represented by liberal democracy, freedom of religion, and other such newfangled concepts.

RF: If you took a sober, dispassionate look at the history of the current incidence of terrorism (and for this I recommend US News & World Report), you will see how wrong your glib assumptions are. Yours are the spin-meister words that try to promote a frightening, dehumanised, debased interpretation of events to suit  hegemonic agendas. A question, do you think that the US is really scared about Al Qaeda? They have troops and operatives, in harm's way, throughout the Muslim world. They do this willing, knowlingly and assuredly. Only the words say "Let's be concerned to the point of giving up our cherished way of life." The actions say "I ain't afraid of nobody". Only last week, the US announced another huge multi-billion dollar expenditure to replaced the ordnance and machines that have been used and worn-out in 3 years of conflict. Do you have shares in Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Honeywell etc? Do you have a financial interest in any of this obscene and dirty bonanza?

WH: Most proximally the war is on Muslims who don't share bin Laden & Co's vision of Islam, how it should be practised, how it should project itself onto the global stage and civil society. The fact is that most victims of the Islamic extremists are their fellow Muslims. So in one sense Nye is correct in pointing to a "civil war" being waged within the Islamic world.

RF: If you are talking about the civil war that rages in Iraq, except that no one from the COTW will admit it openly, then you are correct that there is Muslim vs Muslim battle. However, this has nothing to do with bin Laden or Al Qaeda. The Shiites, now taking their orders from Teheran, have zero to do with Al Qaeda. They have their own political agenda and it conflicts severely with the rearguard battle of the Sunni minority to preserve as much of their former power and privilege as they can. Your understanding of the political battles currently fought with guns makes no allowance for the incompatability of philosophical outlook between Wahabbi, Shiite and Sunni. None will take direction from the other except in the most general of terms. Contrary to prevailing views, bin Laden and Al Qaeda would be wiped out tomorrow should the Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenis and Pakistanis no longer see them as useful in dislocating Western zones of comfort. And in the end, these attitudes are controlled by forces that are financial and not religious nor ideological.

 WH: Most important, and often lost in the blind, shrill denunciations of Bush, Howard, Blair. et al. is what bin Laden & Co. "hate" about "us." They hate our virtues, the openness of our societies, our readiness (in general) to accept people of a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and beliefs. All the principles we honour, but too often do so in the breach, are what they are willing to kill us for.

RF: Firstly Bush, Blair and Howard need constraints in the form of the most virulent protests. Without them, the conflict would be escalted many-fold. When they send the future of our countries to die then they have to justify what they do every second of the day. The conflict that they have taken us into is no WWI or WWII. The origins of this conflict have no such simple arrangements and clear aims and enemies as you are willing to promote in their behalf. They are not "wise men", merely politicians who need to sell their wares to maintain their jobs.

Second, in your lauding of all the virtues of our way of life you show neither understanding nor respect for the sophistication of Arab/Muslim culture. This is xenophobia, pure and simple. 

WH: Bin Laden is not saying, "Bush, you should shut down Guantanamo Bay and be true to the finest traditions of American rule of law and jurisprudence. Howard, you should scrap those silly sedition laws, as they violate the very freedoms you claim to uphold. Blair, that anti-terror legislation is an insult to the centuries of liberal development which Britain has led." Zarqawi is not saying, "come on you guys, raise your game and act like a real liberal society."

RF: Will, you are absolutely correct, none of the leaders of this terrorism are saying those things. We, myself and others, who think that the democratical ideal has been stolen from us are saying these things.

WH: No, what these guys hate is our game. The very idea of democracy is anathema to them. Acceptance of other religions? Fuggedaboudit! Equality for women? What a laugh! Homosexuals? Death to them. Freedom of expression? Dare to publish that essay, and we'll cut your kids' hands off.

RF: Xenophobic hogwash, populist rhetoric, call it what you will, what you say is not a considered argument. It is, somewhat mild, I grant you, demonisation and dehumanisation. We can fight them and kill them, perpetuating the cycle of violence so that more ordnance and materiel can be sold, because they are totally alien.

WH:This is a war, but Nye is right that it will take some soft power to win it. Because of all the people on the fence, who could go either way. Some of them have legitimate criticisms of the "West" and/or grievances against "us" (like the fact that we've looked the other way while their rich despotic rulers abused them, and the way we've treated their countries like big petrol stations). Many of them admire us for our values, and are attracted to our societies. They're disillusioned when they see us not living up to those ideals, and this does leave them vulnerable to the ideological depredations of the Zarqawistas.

RF: You have a glimpse of some of the real reasons for our current state of conflict but you gloss over them in a cursory and somewhat misinformed way. We have not merely "looked the other way". We have aided and abetted, installed in power and protected with our military might, these "despotic" rulers. We have done this on every continent, in every Third World country on this planet that has a resource to exploit. We, Aussies, are doing it this very second to East Timor, robbing them of oil that belongs to them. We, the rich West, are amongst the most despicable of all parasites, maintaining our exorbitant lifestyles on the sweat and toil of the world's poorest.

WH: You do not need to love Dubya, John, and Tony to recognise this. You do not need to be a Bush, Howard, or Blair supporter to recognise that this war started well before they were in office.

RF: Yes, Will, you are correct. This current conflict started nearly a century ago (on my research) or 60 years ago, if you accept the very frank assessment that Dr Rice gave in Egypt a year ago to a supposedly closed meeting.

Reply to Roger and Jay

Thank you Roger and Jay for replying to my post in such detail. Though I acknowledge you both disagree with my interpretations, I think there is some common ground. I'd like to briefly respond where I differ, and highlight areas where I agree with you both.

Roger: [War] is a legal stretch which cannot succeed... To call it a war, as the establishment that forms the COTW do unceasingly, is a lie with the sole purpose of obfuscation.

Fair enough point. I call it a war because in my view it has many of the qualities of one. Groups like al Qaeda are, as you imply, non-state actors, so from a strict definition, it's not a war. But I don't like to get hung up on terminology, so I'll stick with "conflict" or "confrontation" if you're more comfortable with that. But it's not a "lie."

And I don't like the implicit accusation. I don't lie. What I present as factual is true to my best understanding. What I present as my opinion or interpretation is what I sincerely believe. You are free to correct any misstatements of fact I may make, and/or to disagree with my opinions, as you clearly do (as is your right).

Roger: [Bush/Blair/Howard] are not "wise men", merely politicians who need to sell their wares to maintain their jobs.

I agree. I'm no fan of Bush or Howard; indeed I have voted against them both. I have mixed feelings about Blair. But I don't think the conflict is about them. Remember, the first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center was in 1993, while Clinton, Major, and Keating were in office.

Second, in your lauding of all the virtues of our way of life you show neither understanding nor respect for the sophistication of Arab/Muslim culture. This is xenophobia, pure and simple.

Actually I said nothing about Arab/Muslim culture. As a scientist, I have perhaps more appreciation than most of what Islamic culture has given the West, in laying the foundations for modern maths and science. I'm no xenophobe. Your use of that term against me is baseless, unnecessary, and uncalled-for. All cultures have both virtues and flaws, and the West is no exception. But again, from the statements of bin Laden and others, they are not criticising our flaws. I would also argue that if bin Laden has his way, the rich sophistication of Arab/Muslim culture will not be enhanced, but rather will suffer a grave setback. I wrote, and I'll repeat here " what these guys hate is our game. The very idea of democracy is anathema to them. Acceptance of other religions? Fuggedaboudit! Equality for women? What a laugh! Homosexuals? Death to them. Freedom of expression? Dare to publish that essay, and we'll cut your kids' hands off." 

Roger, you replied: Xenophobic hogwash, populist rhetoric, call it what you will, what you say is not a considered argument. It is, somewhat mild, I grant you, demonisation and dehumanisation.

I beg to differ. Rather, the contempt that totalitarians like bin Laden show for even the most basic human rights is what I would characterise as "demonisation and dehumanisation." I would like to see everyone have at least the rights we enjoy now in places like Australia, the USA, and the UK (yes I agree it could be better).

Roger: are you seriously saying that groups like al Qaeda want to bring about religious and sexual freedom, gender equality, democracy, and freedom of expression in the Arab/Muslim world? That's not what they say with words or actions.

Roger: We have not merely 'looked the other way'. We have aided and abetted, installed in power and protected with our military might, these 'despotic' rulers.

Jay makes a similar point. I agree with you both, and welcome the Bush Administration's acknowledgment of this misguided policy. Whether they now live up to this is another question...

Roger (again): Do you have shares in Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Honeywell etc? Do you have a financial interest in any of this obscene and dirty bonanza?

No. And if I did that would not in itself discredit any of the points I've made. Now look Roger, I'm engaging in this discussion because I think it's an important one. I'm a big boy and can take a bit of rhetorical rough&tumble. But these insults against me are pretty harsh, and only diminish your argument. Accusing me of xenophobia, demonisation, and dehumanisation is wrong and gets you nowhere.

Jay Somasundaram notes: The real problem I have is the Us and Them approach. US foreign policy is first and foremost 'look after US interests' and a belated second, if it can be done without damaging policy one, 'promote the rah rah rah stuff like democracy, freedom etc.' That is not particularly wrong, as long as the US is honest about this, and does not apply 'power' and coercion.

I agree. But I contend that the "US v. Them" approach is exactly what bin Laden & Co. employ, and we are misguided if we respond the same way as Bush is prone to do. I said nothing about who "started it." The motivations of al Qaeda and allied groups are complex and include a range of real and imagined grievances against "the West." bin Laden's original stated gripe against Saudi Arabia is that the royal family invited "infidel" troops to be stationed there during and after the first Gulf War of 1991.

No Insult Intended

Will, I enjoyed your last post. I imply no insult, just an interpretation of my view of your position.

I detect some ambivalence in what you believe and what you say. I find nothing to support in the stance taken by the US, UK and Australia. My opinion of bin Laden is that he is killer of the first order, which is why the US funded him in the anti-Soviet insurgencies in Afghanistan.

However, he has been promoted into the role of the West's latest boogeyman by the West itself. Given that no human being is the personification of evil and given that the West will deal with the devil himself if a profit to be made, I view every denunciation of bin Laden with suspicion and cynicism. The "war on terrorism" is a self-fulfilling prophecy with a massive profit attached (pardon the pun) and I detest the notion that we should give it some sort of legitimacy.

If we in Australia feel discomforted with the idea that this terrorism is on our doorstep and that Australia needs draconian measures to protect us from shadowy terrorism, then more fools us. We are being led a merry dance by the bin Ladens and the Bushes of the world. This is not the first and will not be the last of a never-ending procession of "terrorisms" that punctuate short periods of peaceful stasis.

Do you not think it just a tad convenient that only a decade ago, we had fanciful talk of a "peace dividend" and now our collective world is in mortal danger? Who is jerking who's chain here?

Clear Thinking

Will Howard, I can only categorise your stance as xenophobic hogwash.

In your explanations of the state of the world today, you are trotting out every line that the fellow travellers supporting the oil cartels, the military-industrial complex and the world banks have promoted for a very long time.

I must assume that you have a reasonable financial stake in this outcome. Do you stand to make a six, seven, eight or more figure gain in your wealth? If not, then what benefit is it to you that Halliburton or Bechtel or Aramco/Esso/BP and all the other organisations who are gorging at the public trough at both our expense and the expense of the unfortunates who live in the countries affected?

My taxes and yours are enabling a small number of people to maintain or gather fabulous wealth while all along people like yourself stand cheering on the sidelines and mouthing nonsensical justifications.

Re: Clear thinking

Roger Fedyk writes, "Will Howard, I can only categorise your stance as xenophobic hogwash. In your explanations of the state of the world today, you are trotting out every line that the fellow travellers supporting the oil cartels, the military-industrial complex and the world banks have promoted for a very long time."

Er - are you sure it was my post you read? It started "Nye's essay goes neatly with some points that have come up..." and ended with "...this war started well before they were in office." I have no financial stake in the outcome of this conflict except in the very general sense that global instability is not good for my super. I certainly don't hold shares, directly or indirectly in any of the companies you've listed. Also I'm not aware of statements like mine being promoted by "oil cartels, the military-industrial complex and the world banks." But then perhaps I haven't read enough of what these bodies have said.

You assert that "people like [myself] stand cheering on the sidelines and mouthing nonsensical justifications." I don't see my stance as "cheering" anything. Perhaps you could expand a bit on this and on what you mean by "nonsensical justifications." 

With respect, Roger, do you have some substantive refutation of the points I've made? Or is "xenophobic hogwash" the sum total of your analysis?

The soft and the hard of it

I suppose if one contemplates the street-level purview of the Iraq Adventure, which I still feel is a better description than "war", the "embedded press corps" are actually the soft bullet, fired at a dopey, unthinking electorate in an effort to win hearts and minds away from the reality of the blood and gore, Steve refers to in his reply.

It becomes simple, easy, comfortable even accepting, to watch the "TV war on terror" in the 30 second sound bytes from the small screen, rather than remember the realities of war, such as we saw on Movietone News back in the 60's when we contemplated the destruction of a generation in each of several countries, in the name of Americas war on "the red peril". Some elements even become so commonplace that we are inured to the facts on the TV every night.

Back then we never forgot that when a squadron of helicopters flew off for a sortie, only two out of three returned. When a rifle platoon left for a foray into the jungle, only half came back. Now we fail to see and feel the reality.

This is being allowed to happen again. We watched Desert Storm, in real time. We saw the Iraqi forces mown down under the sands of the southern desert, and they failed to be men. They became "the enemy". Now we see a Muslim in the street, and he is also "the enemy". The soft war at work, in my opinion.

Our own government in alienating the thinking electorate, attracts the smelly masses who really have no idea of the value, the worth or the simple strength of their piece of paper in the cardboard box, filled out in seclusion behind a cardboard screen, and then counted with baited breath, by long winded party hacks and true believers, on Saturday nights.

It is only when our education process takes account of what we are able to digest and decipher in our lounge rooms, that we will see the soft bullets fired, and be able to protect ourselves. Our kids should be exposed to political thought processes, without gifts and bullshit, just discussed in ways they can understand, so they can use their vote effectively when they finally get to cast their it.

I find it difficult indeed to accept that Howard and friends really have the level of acceptance in the electoral market place, when one considers the lies told to keep them in place all these years. I wonder rather whether votes are bought with "the foreign devil lives!", as we watch the drama of yet another group of young people sacrificed on the altar of war to the God Halliburton and its high priest Dick Cheney and his public face, George W Bush.

Why do we let them do this to us? Why aren't we in the streets calling for the blood of the elected old men, instead of the non-voting children? When last, did a senator's son, or a MHR's daughter, find him or her self boarding a C130 for the uncomfortable flight to support coercive democracy in a civilisation, outside of our understanding, which due to American and now UK and Australian interventionism, threatens our entire way of life, right down now, to ID cards, to enable closer personal monitoring of us as individuals.

Daily, in my opinion, we approach the Orwellian madness which is 1984 and we allow it to happen, like sheep being led to slaughter. How stupid are we?

criticisms of Nye

Like Steve Wallace, I read what Nye has written and came away trying to understand what his point really was. While allowing that we should try and apply sophisticated analysis where it is relevant, the distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' power is artificial and laughable.

We can easily replace those terms with their real world counterparts, 'world domination' and 'spin' which leads to the conclusion that the Nye piece is self-serving pap for psuedo-intellectuals or worse yet an attempt at obsfucation.

Power requires no definition and is instantly recognisable. For example, most people in the world, including all but a handful of Australians, have no power. We live a life buffetted by decisions made by the truly powerful who are neither our friends nor our neighbours. But we are certainly aware of the Packers, Murdochs and their fellow-travellers.

What we do have, and which is exploited to the hilt, is the ability to generate wealth, most of which is taken away from us and transferred to someone else. However, those in power need the Nye's of the world to continually try to sell us on the idea that the carrot is worth the stick.

Another egregious statement is Nye's assertion that, "... today’s terrorist threat is not Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations. It is a civil war within Islam between a majority of normal people and a small minority who want to coerce others into a accepting a highly ideological and politicised version of their religion. We cannot win unless the moderates win. We cannot win unless the number of people the extremists recruit is lower than the number we kill and deter."

Firstly, there is no evidence of a 'civil war within Islam'. The lie contained with such statement panders to the overall lie sold to the citizens of the West that Islam is monolitihic. It clearly is not and a review of most Islamic countries shows that a state of civil war does not exist in most of them.

There are exceptions such as Algeria but even there, the civil war has nothing to do with present state of turmoil in Iraq. Saudia Arabia is a pressure cooker waiting to explode but the anger and dissatisfaction with the House of Saud has everything to do with the rulers sellout to the US. Osama bin Laden's initial rationale for commencing his terrorist campaigns had only the removal of the US from Saudia Arabia as its aim.

The conflict has now escalated for many obvious reasons beyond that original aim but should the US and its allies leave the Middle East the current "war on terror" would disappear quickly.

Any scholar of Islam will tell you that Islam is not a proselytising religion in the same way that Christianity is. Converts to Islam are welcome but not actively sought via missionary activity.

One of the often-trotted-out arguments for the invasion of Iraq was to bring democracy to the Arab lands. For sheer arrogance that is another breathtaking lie. It assumes, in the first place, that centuries of peaceful and sohisticated Arab civilisation and learning, during which the ordinary Muslim lived a worthwhile life, counts for nothing. Whatever Western democracy brings to the table of human affairs, it only is worthwhile if it is a gift and not bestowed at the point of a gun which, according to Joseph Nye, is a reasonable state of affairs.

Confusion and Evasion

Good comment, Steve Wallace, you've pretty well nailed down where Mr Nye is coming from and where he's at. But now, playing in Mr Nye's sandpit for a moment, I'm finding it difficult to make sense of his third last para.

It begins:

"Brutality and indifference to 'just war' principles of discrimination and proportionality can also destroy legitimacy."

 I took this to be criticism of the invasion itself, which even if one accepts the invasion as legitimate (which I don't, but we're in Nye's sandpit for the moment), arguably was implemented in violation of the Geneva Conventions and those "principles of discrimination and proportionality", to which Mr Nye at least pays lip service.

But Nye continues,

"The efficiency of the initial American military invasion of Iraq in 2003 created admiration in the eyes of some foreigners. But this soft power was undercut by the inefficiency of the occupation..."

Now, what's this guy on about? The invasion of Iraq could hardly be characterised as anything other than the exercise of "hard power". It seems to become "soft power", at least in Nye's estimation, due to its "efficiency".

I can only think that the "efficiency" of the initial invasion phase consists in the swiftness with which Baghdad fell. However, efficiency is not a term that leaps to mind when one considers the ensuing heavy civilian losses and damage to infrastructure.

It seems that Nye is fudging his terms here, and consequently his treatment of the Iraq invasion, even within the terms of his discussion here, becomes confused and worthless. Ultimately it's a dishonest appraisal of the effect that the overwhelming and indiscriminate application of massive lethal force has on the hearts and minds of the conquered ... sorry, Mr Nye, I mean "liberated".

The Battle For Hearts and Minds

“Rumsfeld finally realises the importance of winning hearts and minds,“ the Telegraph reports See this extract:

“Beijing's newly cultivated energy alliances with populist Left-wing leaders in Latin America, traditionally regarded as the US backyard, are causing alarm in Washington.

Venezuela, which is America's fourth biggest oil supplier and is led by Hugo Chávez, the anti-US authoritarian, sold only 12,300 barrels a day to China in 2004 but that figure will soar under new deals. Beijing is also expanding operations in Bolivia, where Mr Chávez's ally, Evo Morales, became president last year, and Peru.”

Seems China maybe be a few steps in front of the US in the battle for hearts and minds. While the US is concentrating its efforts on the Middle East. China is busy in Latin America.

The Standard Line

Webdiarists, this is a terrific example of standard commentary on US war crimes. Never to be diverted by issues of legality, the commentator speaks only of efficiency, efficacy and effectiveness. In such a manner we would have admired the Nazis, who excelled in all three areas, rather than put them on trial at Nuremburg. The US judges referred to the charges as the ultimate crime, that of initial aggression.

The author’s lexicon is as revealing, and deserves remembering. He prefers the sanitized term military force to dismemberment, disfigurement or disembowelling. In this manner he hopes that we might think in abstract management terms, rather than the lurid realities of blood and body parts. What we do to them is termed either intervention, military action, regime change, or democratisation. If anything is ever done to us it is rated an atrocity, an obscenity and screeched in all its gory glory.

It was ever thus.

The author peppers his piece with absurdities such as just war, when no such phenomenon exists. Although reiteration does have a certain power, no legal war exists, certainly not the preventive war of the Bush Doctrine, nor even the pre-emptive war of the Cold War era. It is perhaps axiomatic that to a man with a gun most things need to be shot. To the country with the greatest military in all of time it is reasonable that the world needs war, that war is a valid option, as Dick Cheney said inventing a word, ‘doable’, merely because it is viable. Discussions and distinctions between hard and soft power quickly wither in the light of shock and awe.

In the end this discussion can only address the competence with which the crime has been committed, while avoiding consideration of the crime itself. Like observers of a footy match we can ask only, how is our team doing, did the coach put the right blokes up front, should we get a new winger, or has the team put in the effort at training? This article is typical of its type, remarkable perhaps only for its one new (to me at least), term coercive democracy.

The author wrote that with a straight face? It gets better by the day.

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