What’s Wrong with the World

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The Only Thing A Muzhik Understands Is Force!

The hawks in Reagan’s administration assured him he couldn’t reason with communists. One adviser, the historian Richard Pipes, told Reagan the Russian mind worked in ways fundamentally different from our own. The peasant mentality of the Russian muzhik, Pipes had written in 1977, held “that cunning and coercion alone ensured survival: one employed cunning when weak, and cunning coupled with coercion when strong. Not to use force when one had it indicated weakness.” Reagan disagreed. Ignoring the advice of hard-liners like Pipes and the neoconservative strategist Richard Perle, Reagan preferred jaw-jaw to war-war. “We must and will engage the Soviets in a dialogue as serious and constructive as possible,” he insisted in a 1984 address. ~Dan McCarthy

There is something very powerful about the idea that it is impossible to reason with an adversary, especially one as genuinely perverse as the Soviets. What is striking about this excerpt from Dan's interesting review of Diggin's book is how this episode of Reagan and Richard Pipes compares with the present administration and its acquiescence in the theories of those who embrace such works as The Arab Mind. Whether it is the muzhiki of Russia or the Arabs, you have to deal with "those people" with a firm hand (i.e., threats, weapons build-ups or military action). One is reminded of the ivory tower rationalisations of mass murder by the fictional Dr. Garrigan from The Last King of Scotland: "This is Africa. You have to meet violence with violence. Anything else, and you're dead." Neoconservatives seem to be of the mind that Dr. Garrigan's approach to problem-solving is applicable on every continent. Perhaps the good doctor would have concluded along with certain latter-day enthusiasts of the ends justifying the means that you must get your hands dirty in a good cause. But I digress.

What is especially striking is just how wrong the neoconservatives were then, and generally how wrong they have been about the Arab world as well. Indeed, so frequent and gross have their errors been that it is not entirely clear how they manage to get to advise American Presidents about anything more important than what sort of wine to have with dinner (even this they would probably get wrong out of reflexive distaste for all things European).

Nuclear disarmament treaties have been successfully concluded and the Cold War came to a peaceful end. Meanwhile, the Near Eastern Arab nations, treated to cluster bombs and invasions by the U.S. and allied states, seem even less amenable to American goals than they were before. Noticeable differences between the two administrations in which the neocons served in prominent positions appear at once: they did not always get their way under Reagan, and Reagan is regarded as a successful and widely admired President; they frequently got their way under Bush (perhaps not in every single instance, but often enough) and Bush will go down in the record as a magnificent failure who was widely loathed. Coincidence? I think not.

Had Reagan followed the reflexively "hard-line" (which is not so much hard as it is foolish) view, the Cold War might have been prolonged and might have ended with much more bloodshed. Had Bush marginalised or challenged the people offering the easy assumptions that "the only thing these people understand is force," who knows what might have resulted? As unremittingly hostile as I am to Mr. Bush, I must recognise that his Presidency did not have to become the shambles that it has. He did not have to embark on a uniformly misguided and foolish foreign policy. He had choices, and he had alternative policies he could have pursued. Some of us opposed to the neocons speak of Mr. Bush being "captured" by the neocon view, but this gives Mr. Bush too much credit--he was a willing participant in the disaster that unfolded, and he was the one who made it possible by heeding the advice of people whom Reagan wisely ignored when he deemed it necessary.

It is therefore most unfortunate that the "amiable dunce" label, which was so completely wrong for Reagan, seems to be more than a little apt for Mr. Bush, which has made him easy pickings for the "intellectuals" who surround him in his administration.

Comments (13)

I hope you're not saying that we need to work harder at engaging in "constructive dialogue" with jihadis. Because if so, I don't agree. Neither, however, am I in favor of interventionist foreign policy, at least not for the most part, and not in the case of the Iraq war in particular.

How about A. J. Nock's insights on the fine art of snoring? It was a particular Russian fellow, as I recall, that Nock had in mind. Field Marshal Prince Mihail Ilarionovitch Kutusov-Smolenksy. Says Nock, "Caulaincourt reports Napoleon's saying, 'That devil Kutusov will never make a fight of it.' Nor did he . . . Napoleon said to Caulaincourt, 'I beat the Russians every time, but that does not get me anyhwere'"

And what did Kutosov have that was so peculiar? "Something between Amos and the Almighty," says Nock. "Not only is that something, as I said, dissociated from intellect, but also if the intellect be applied to it in any attempt at rationalization, however cautious and tentative, it refuses to turn its game for you and leaves you in the lurch."

OTH, Here's Mark Steyn, "Don't Get Mad, Get Even."

Fascinating quotes from Pipes. And keep in mind the role Pipes secular Jewish background plays in his characterization of the Russian people; the dimwitted Christian peasant, or goyishe kop has long been a staple of Jewish otherization, from East Europe stereotypes to Polish jokes and right up to Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Borat'.

Good thing Reagan saw through that racism.

This analysis neglects several things, in my view, one at least of which is of considerable importance:

(1) The typical neoconservative, as Jeff wrote below, is actually a universalist in his politics; this, indeed, is in my judgment the single most distructive nostrum embraced and advanced under neoconservatism. All the wild and astonishing peculiarities of men are lost on them.

(2) Whatever one may say about Arabs -- and I am very much inclined to agree with Daniel's implication that cheap generalizations are unhelpful -- one can very confidently say that the Jihad works a spell on the minds of men which amounts to driving them three or four steps back toward mere barbarism. In short, "dialogue" or "negotiation" with the Jihad is little more than short-term military parlay, and must be approached with extreme care and iron determination. On its own theory it can never make a real peace.

Jihad is a hateful thing; and as it is a mere collection of principles inspiring men -- potent principles appealing to their base nature -- we have no obligation to do anything other hate it.

3) It can only be conjecture (and counterfactual conjecture at that) to say "Had Reagan followed the reflexively 'hard-line' ... view, the Cold War might have been prolonged and might have ended with much more bloodshed." Might indeed. Or it might have been shorter and less bloody. Again I am inclined to agree with Daniel's judgment on this point, and I am very glad Reagan followed the course he did; but this remains conjecture.

Combining (2) and (3), I find this analysis -- which, it must be said, contains so small bitterness -- unpersuasive as both history and prescription.

Yes, and I wasn't really under the impression that it was Reagan's willngness to engage in constructive dialogue that ended the cold war.?? I'm not saying, "Gee, he should've nuked the bastards." By no means. But if you asked the people talking most about detente and dialogue at the time, they would have characterized Reagan as very hawkish and said he wasn't following _their_ advice (which would have included disarmament on our part, no weapons buildup, less criticism of the Soviet Union, and so forth).

I think it's often forgotten that Reagan was formerly a very successful union executive, with a wealth of negotiating experience. He understood HOW to negotiatiate: from strength, and with a touch of mystery. Reagan negotiated rather than fighting, to be sure, but all the while he was bravely ignoring the capitulationists and real-politik advocates at home and abroad to build up his negotiating credibility with substantive capability. What seems to have been missing since Reagan is this effective blend. And while Maggie Thatcher (God bless her) strengthened his hand considerably by shoring up his flank, I believe he would have stayed his course under any circumstance, because he held to bedrock fundamentals about the nature of men and nations.

I think that we ought to discriminate between resistance to jihadists and actual or hypothetical conflicts with nation-states, for in that distinction lies both clarification and possibility. For example, negotiating with say, Syria, though unpleasant, might yield tangible benefits by decoupling the Syrian regime from whatever elements operating within, or at the behest of, Syria we might consider a threat to our interests. Or, to take a step back in time, it was a gross error to conflate a querelous Near Eastern nation-state with jihadists, and this conflation has led our policy into chaos.

It would not necessarily be negotiation with agents of the jihad were we to investigate, by means of diplomacy, what interests we hold in common with Syria, and how Syria might be encouraged to pursue them. Which is simply to state that while there is no sense in pretending that there is anything to be gained from negotiations with a bin Laden, we ought not make the mistake of imputing to nation-states, with their breadth of interests, the same intransigence and incorrigibility that we observe in militants.

Finally, Pipes, as with so many Western scholars of Russia and Russian history, is an incorrigible bigot; it is one thing to claim, on the basis of considerable evidence, that Russians and Arabs, to take the relevant groups, have cultural assumptions divergent in certain respects from ours, and this is a factor in their interactions with us; it is quite another to state that their minds function differently, as though they were incapable of entering sympathetically into the assumptions of another party, which is what any negotiation entails, at least in part.

All I can say is that in _recent_ attempts to negotiate with Syria it seems to me that we've been rather stupid. But there I may be wrong.

Unfortunately, too, some nation-states may become just like militants. I wouldn't credit Ahmadinejad (sp?) with any too much rational self interest. In fact, in that sense he seems to me far more dangerous than the Soviets. We have to keep an open mind to the possibility of a nation-state with the mindset of suicide bombers. This, of course, being shorthand for the leaders of said nation-state, though I wouldn't place _too_ much money on a divergence between the people and the leaders in all such cases, either. The Palestinian people, for example, seem with depressing uniformity to be committed to a death cult, as witness all the abominations that have been coming to light on a weekly or daily basis concerning their deliberate indoctrination of their children in a lust to kill Israeli civilians. If the world were to be foolish enough to give those people a state, I think we can tell already that it would not be a rationally governed state.

Perhaps I did not explain this very well. Two points. First, neoconservatives *always* think taking a hard-line position is the right thing to do with respect to advancing the national interest, and they are very often grossly mistaken about this. I wanted to draw attention to this continual advocacy for hawkish, indeed super-hawkish, stances in all circumstances. This shows an amazing inflexibility and lack of imagination on their part, and it is well that other administrations have been more flexible and imaginative than they would have liked. The other point, which I failed to make clearly here, is that I do not advocate "constructive dialogue" with jihadis, or rather I don't advocate that with Al Qaeda and the like. What I do insist on is attempting to discern which groups are actually our enemies and which are not, rather than engage in Romneyesque declarations that effectively conflate virtually every group in the Near East into one hostile camp. We should refuse to lump them together under sweeping categories and we should not be trying to make every Muslim fundamentalist our *active* enemies at the same time. I have no illusions that the problem with the Islamic world is something other than Islam itself, but it is because this is the case that we should be all the more careful in choosing whether, when and where to fight.

This is a question of strategy. Do we want to exploit divisions and weaknesses and play on internecine quarrels within the Islamic world, or do we want to press a variety of Muslim forces into a coalition that will try to oppose us? We need more Kennan, less Dulles, in how we approach fighting jihadis. Part of that involves recognising the cases where we can gain temporary allies, splitting off this or that state from a hostile coalition and understanding how to use sectarian and national divisions in the opposing camp to our advantage. The impulse among those who tend to take the jihadi threat rather more seriously is to do the exact opposite, and I want to say very firmly that this is very wrong.

It would depend on how the idea of exploiting divisions was to be done. And after all, if the problem _is_ Islam, then we can't lie about that. Nor should we be silent about it, pace Dinesh D'Souza. (Yes, Dinesh, they _should_ just get a new holy book.) Moreover, by setting up one group against the other, we run the risk of setting up our own enemies for the future. In a sense, I suppose using one group that hated us against the other is what we were doing in Afghanistan years ago. Result: Osama bin Laden.

And concretely, what does making friends with Syria mean? If it means, "Tell Israel to give Syria the Golan Heights or we abandon them to their fate," then this strategy advice should receive a firm "no." Nor do I believe it would do us the slightest good, either.

Larison writes:

neoconservatives *always* think taking a hard-line position is the right thing to do with respect to advancing the national interest

Ah, I get it now. Neocons are Muhziks!

Note that we did not ultimately find it very productive to engage in "dialogue" with Nazi Germany -- we just destroyed them.

The Nazis treated attempts at dialogue, before the war, as evidence of weakness and an invitation to further intimidation and aggression. Furthermore they had a broad streak of nihilistic lunacy; they really -were-, in a very basic sense, crazy. They were living in a perceptual reality violently at variance with ours.

The reason the Cold War worked rather differently was that the Communists were (marginally) less barking mad, and that we always had a credible threat of destruction at our disposal to hold over their heads.

The dangerous bits of the Cold War were when they doubted we had the will to use it.

The Communists were cunning and ruthless, but on the whole fairly cautious. They believed in war as an instrument of _realpolitik_ and in the "correlation of forces". They were, after all, philosophical materialists at seventh and last, however much apocalyptic stuff got snuck into the doctrine.

Jihadis, obviously, don't think that way. They're even crazier than Nazis.

Of course, force is like any other tool of policy: it works well when applied with skill, patience and determination, and when not, not.

It's also important not to be over-optimistic about the House of Islam as a whole. Islam is not a "religion of peace". It's a civil code and a form of government as well as a religious vision, and it's one that does not and really cannot admit the legitimacy of any non-Muslim government, or any place for non-believers except as dhimmis.

Islam began with a prolonged series of military aggressions. They got as far as central France and the gates of Vienna.

The reason we didn't have all that much trouble with them recently in historical terms is not that there weren't substantial Muslim elements who hated and despised the West and held triumphalist dreams of supremacy and conquest and revenge.

The reason was that during the 18th and 19th and early 20th centuries the Western nations gave the Muslim world as a whole such a dreadful, continuous round of pounding and beating and killing and conquering and repeated humiliation and defeat and generally rubbing their faces in the dirt that they just didn't dare anger us.

They remembered the sacked cities and the French 'razziahs' in Algeria and the Muslim refugees pouring in from 'ethnic cleansing' in the Balkans and the British killing the last of the Moguls and blowing jihadists off the muzzles of cannon and hanging them sewn into pigskins and the Cossacks molesting their women and stabling their horses in the mosques and so forth.

They knew that the "Western way" made for strength, and many were forced (very unwillingly) to realize that their "way" led to weakness and defeat.

Recently they've gotten more confident. That's the problem.

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