Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Case of the Sometime Friend

Consider this post a gloss on my prior post, The Case of the Angry Young Woman.

In that post I explained that when you express anger at someone, you should be trying to accomplish something. Expressing anger should have a purpose. And I said that the best purpose, when someone’s offensive behavior has angered you, is to elicit an apology. Your anger should show the other person that he has offended you. His moral sense should tell him to apologize.

Soon after finishing the post, I chanced on this column by therapist Lori Gottlieb. The woman who writes to Gottlieb has a much better sense of what is required than does Polly. In the end, she even has a better sense of it than does Gottlieb. Letter writer Michelle understands that her friend owes her an apology for a grievous offense.

Here is the letter:

A friend of mine asked to rent a work tool of mine (namely, a high-end camera) in order for someone to photograph her wedding. I happily obliged, but then was shocked to later realize that not only was she not inviting me to the wedding but that she had failed to tell me so before she asked to use the camera.

My question is: How do I get her to give a sincere apology and admit her wrongdoing in asking for the camera in the first place, especially without an explanation about not inviting me? I don’t even know how to start this conversation and neither of us has said anything about it.


Gottlieb suggests that there may be a misunderstanding. She is correct to consider this possibility:

My guess is that your friend probably hasn’t said anything because she doesn’t realize you’re upset. You say that she asked to “rent” the camera, which seems less like a personal favor between friends and more like a business arrangement between acquaintances. And if she’s renting a camera from you, it sounds as if she isn’t hiring a professional photographer and is working with a limited budget—which might mean that the guest list is small, and that you aren’t part of a tighter inner circle that would be included on that list.

In other words, there might be a mismatch between her idea and yours about the nature of your friendship. Maybe to her, you two are friends, but not close enough for her to include you in her wedding celebration—or even close enough for her to ask to borrow rather than rent the camera. It’s highly unlikely that she’d have asked for the camera if she knew that you would be hurt if you weren’t invited to the wedding. She probably assumed that you didn’t expect to be there.

Surely, this is better than being extremely rude. It may well be the case that the friend is having a small wedding at City Hall. And it is also true that asking to rent a camera is not the same as asking to borrow it. The friend engaged in a business transaction, not an exchange of favors between friends.

On the other hand, Michelle is quite correct to note that the friend  should have had the courtesy to say that she was not going to invite her to the wedding. This egregious lack of respect should not go unanswered.

Even if, as Gottlieb suggests, the two women have completely different understandings of the nature of the friendship, this does not excuse the bride from saying something about wedding invitations. 

In truth, if she did not want to invite Michelle, she should not have asked her to rent the camera at all. If it’s about renting a piece of professional equipment, you can find a business that specializes in that. Besides, if the camera is an expensiv, what happens if it gets damaged or broken at the wedding? Who is responsible?

Gottlieb errs when she suggests that Michelle should confront her friend and ask her what’s up. Here is her advice:

Before you broach the topic, though, it’s important to adjust your goal for the conversation. The aim should be to understand more about your friendship, not to accuse her of having done anything wrong or pressure her to say something she doesn’t feel. You might say, “Hey, I’m thrilled that you’re engaged and I’m happy to rent my camera to you. I know this might be uncomfortable to talk about, but we’ve been friends for X number of years, and when you asked to rent my camera, I assumed I’d be there to celebrate with you. I’m not asking for an invitation at this point, just a better understanding of what’s going on between us.”

Gottlieb proposes open and honest communication. I do not. Under the circumstances, nothing could be more awkward than a face-to-face confrontation, one that will likely do more damage than good.

My proposal, for what it’s worth: Michelle should communicate her dismay to a mutual friend, in order to ensure that the bride hears it. Then, it’s up to the bride to apologize. Or not. If the bride does not feel very close to Michelle, she should not have asked to rent the camera in the first place. If the wedding is very small, then she should apologize for not explaining it at first. If all of their mutual friends are invited, Michelle should feel excluded. Normally, the women would have friends in common... and thus Michelle should not have too much difficulty researching the subject.

As she says in her letter, Michelle should receive an apology. The bride owes her an apology. Gottlieb skirts past this element of the letter and thus distracts from the issue at hand.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Case of the Angry Young Woman

A woman who calls herself Red-Hot Ball of Rage writes to New York Magazine’s advice column, Ask Polly. She has, unfortunately, come to the wrong place. When you are trying to escape defining yourself in terms of emotion, you don’t really need to hear from a vapid advice columnist who wants you to jump back into the emotion. You do not want to get advice from someone who imagines that she understands emotion, and only emotion, and who has no sense of reality.

Of course, Polly makes a few passing references to reality, but she has no clue what it is about. And she has no clue about what RHBOR is talking about.

I am beginning to think that it is not merely an occupational hazard, but RHBOR is nothing but emotion. She feels her feelings but we do not really know about what she is feeling her feeling. When she stops feeling her most intense and defining feeling-- her anger-- she feels like she is nothing. And she never places her emotion in any real context.

Denizens of the therapy culture, represented by the likes of Polly, has no take on reality. They wallow in feelings, declare themselves to be in touch with their feelings, give themselves permission to feel their feelings… and waste their lives. They have walked out of the world and are lost in their minds.

Encouraging, don’t you think?

Anyway, here is the letter, in its entirety:

I tried to stop being so angry, and now I don’t know who I am.

I’ve been angry for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my dad bullied and abused me, and my depressed mother didn’t have what it took to protect me. So I became a master of revenge tactics and self-protection. I was like a tiny girl Machiavelli with a big attitude. Then I went to school and found myself in argument after argument, always on the lookout for my next big feud. When I joined the world of work, my anger thrived like a weed. It’s not an anger that punches down (more often than not, it’s directed high up at the people who hold all the power), but it’s anger nonetheless, and it’s exhausting.

Recently, I decided I didn’t want to be this red-hot ball of rage any more. So I quit my job, parted ways with an old friend, and cut ties with some toxic people, all in an attempt to take away the anger from my life. I stopped checking the Twitter accounts of people I hate. I started taking long, deep breaths before I entered a high-stress interaction.

But I feel so empty now that I don’t have that anger. It’s like without something (or someone) to push against, I just can’t get moving. For months now, I’ve felt completely hollow. I don’t even get any real joy from food anymore (and I used to love eating almost as much as I loved fighting). I thought that taking the anger out of my life would show me my true form, but all I see is this listless, depressed shell of a person. I hate to admit it, but conflict gave life.

Can I be alive without being angry?

Yours sincerely,

Red-Hot Ball of Rage

So, anger is a signature emotion. And yet, we know nearly nothing about her current life… except that she is presumably unemployed. We know very little about her family, except that she was abused—in today’s world, who hasn’t been abused?

For some reason, RHBOR decided that anger was being caused by being around other people. She decided that if she retired from her job and cut herself off from friends she would feel less anger. In truth, she does feel less anger… and will do so until she starts feeling angry at against the world, or at politicians. And yet, being alone and isolated, she feels anomie, she feels empty. She thinks that it’s because she does not have her anger to keep her warm, but in truth, she is starving for human contact.

For our part, we are starving for context. Rather than accepting her judgment that she is an angry person, we want to know when and why she used to get angry. We want to know the specific situation, people and places, not just her plaintive wailing about how angry she is. Sometimes, anger makes sense. Sometimes, it does not. Without knowing the context we are left flailing. Apparently, Polly is comfortable flailing. No serious professional should be.

So, we want RHBOR to step back from her experience, to tell us what happened, and then to join us in asking whether it was right or wrong to be angry. If she cannot step out of her experience, put some distance between her and her emotion, she will stay lost.

The second question is: on those occasions when anger is justified, how should she express it? And, when she does express it, what purpose does her expression serve. At the very least, we must recognize that expressing anger is not simply an emotional release, a destressing or depressurizing. Such efforts are more histrionic than real. They have little connection to the situation at hand. They are merely showing off by defining oneself as angry.

There are many different ways to express anger, depending on context, on participants and on the goal one wants to attain. If you do not see anger this way you have missed the point and you will be left either being all anger all the time or no anger ever, and suffering from anomie.

In order to get a grip on the situation we turn to Aristotle. Who else? The philosopher said that one’s ethical obligation is to express anger to the right person, at the right time, in the right place, in the right way, under the right circumstances. That is, an appropriate expression, one suited to the situation at hand, and one designed to serve a purpose.

In our emotion-laden therapy world, no one understands that anger is supposed to solve a problem. And yet, if it does not have a purpose, you are merely expelling gas. After a while, you will, like RHBOR become exhausted by the mindless and meaningless expressions. And people will tire of your histrionics. They will turn away from you, out of boredom with your tedious displays of emotion. Did it cross your mind, when reading the letter, that this woman might simply have alienated everyone around her? She presents herself as the agent who actively severed all ties. Without knowing more about specific circumstances, we are allowed to doubt her testimony.

As for the purpose of expressing anger, consider it in this context. When someone offends or insults you, you will justly feel angry. The insult or offense represents a broken connection, broken because other person has disrespected you, demeaned you, diminished you. You might justly feel angry under the circumstances, but your goal, when you express the anger must be: to repair the breach, to restore the connection.

How can this happen? Simply, you want the other person to apologize, to take it back, to show shame for having made an unintentional slight. You can know how effective your expression was by seeing the other person's reaction. It matters little in the great scheme of things whether or not you feel good, bad or indifferent when expressing your anger. It matters whether your friend feels bad when seeing what he has done. If your offending friend does not recognize that he has wronged you and if he does not try to right the wrong, you have accomplished nothing.

If you are too angry, you will draw attention to yourself, to your anger and to nothing else. Making yourself the center of attention will not allow the other person the option of apologizing and making amends. It make him think that you deserved the put down. Thus, the expression must be modulated. It must not be so strong that it draws attention only to itself. And it must not be so weak that your sometime friend thinks that he has done nothing wrong.

It is not easy. It is not simple. It is certainly not going to be solved by having a dimwitted advice columnist tell you to feel your feelings.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Returning to the State of Nature

Returning to the pristine state of nature. Via Small Dead Animals and Maggie's Farm.

Did Trump Betray America in Helsinki?

Impossible to ignore… the thought pops up as we see the political class, the commentariat and the intelligentsia pile on President Donald Trump for his news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki yesterday.

Treasonous traitor, sold out America, unpatriotic to the core… the message does not just come from the left. It also comes from right thinking politicians. If everyone thinks it, it must be true.

Were we to look at the larger context, something strange would appear. We all know that Barack Obama did not stand up for America. He did not manifest patriotic pride in his country. In what must count as a national disgrace, he began his presidency by apologizing for America, abasing himself on the world stage by declaring that big, bad America had been torturing innocent terrorists. Obama was practicing the Jeremiah Wright, black liberation theology version of foreign policy. He thought that America was the problem in the world, not the solution.

Democrats lost elections because Obama gave away the patriotism as an issue. When Colin Kaepernick refused to respect the National Anthem, the unpatriotic left stood up to defend him. One understands that the gesture was supposed to be a protest against white police brutality, but you do not own the meaning of your gestures. The gesture was irresponsibly unpatriotic. Embracing it, the Obama team sold out patriotism. Besides, is anyone really going to be gas lighted into believing that the crime problem in minority communities is: white police officers?

So, the Democratic Party is desperate to win back the patriotism issue, to absolve itself of the charge that it is unpatriotic. When you watch the hue and cry about Donald Trump’s performance in Helsinki, keep in mind that patriotism is the issue, or better, that Democrats are trying to get people to forget Obama’s lack of patriotism.

Why Republicans are jumping on this message is beyond me. And it is probably beyond them.

To address the looming question, whether Trump should have openly sided with American intelligence agencies against a KGB operative in his news conference, I will offer a contrarian viewpoint. Once Putin publicly denied that he had anything to do with election meddling, if Trump had denounced him, he would have been calling Putin a liar, to his face, in public, before the world. It would have been a satisfying moment of grand drama, but what would it have accomplished?

OK, I accept that it was even more dramatic than Barack Obama’s confiding in Russian President Medvedev on an open microphone, that after the 2012, he would be more conciliatory… thus, if I man extrapolate, more willing to sell out American interests.

Most of the great thinkers who are screaming about Trump’s refusal to call out Putin to his face, had no problem with Obama’s weakness, in word and in deed, toward Russia.

Once Putin strongly rejected the charge of meddling, Trump’s options were to call him out as a liar or to finesse the issue. He chose the latter. If he had chosen the former, it would have ended prospects for a diplomatic rapprochement and for further work to defuse tensions around the world. Would it have been worth it? You decide. I know that people love drama, but still….

And besides, have any of these great minds gotten themselves torqued over the fact that the saintly Angela Merkel is propping up the Putin regime with a massive natural gas deal? Who is really Putin’s flunky?

Among the more interesting reactions to the Trump summit comes this from Prof. Stephen Cohen on Tucker Carlson Tonight. I have reported on Cohen’s analysis on several occasions. He has the advantage of being extremely well informed about Russian history and politics. And he is anything but a right winger. He writes for The Nation, a notably liberal publication.

Cohen was appalled at the public denunciations of the American president:

The reaction by most of the media, by the Democrats, by the anti-Trump people is like mob violence. I've never seen anything like it in my life.

This is the president of the United States, doing what every other president before him, since FDR in 1943 with Stalin, meeting with the head of the Kremlin. And something that every American president since Eisenhower, a Republican by the way, has met with the leader of the Kremlin for one existential purpose: To avoid war between the nuclear superpowers. 

Today, in my considered and scholarly long time judgment, relations between the U.S. and Russia are more dangerous than they have ever been. Let me repeat: Every been, including the Cuban missile crisis. 

I want my president to do --I didn't vote for this president-- but I want my president to do what every other president has done. Sit with the head of the other nuclear superpower and walk back the conflicts that could lead to war, whether they be in Syria, Ukraine, the Baltic nations, these accusations of cyber attacks. 

Every president has been encouraged to do that an applauded by both parties. Not Trump. 

Note the patriotic note: “my president.” Trump is our president. Being a member of the loyal opposition means recognizing that Trump is our president. It is unseemly and unpatriotic to form a mob to attack the American president while he is engaged in complex diplomatic negotiations.

All American presidents, Cohen continues, have received the backing of bipartisan leadership when conducting such negotiations. Not Trump. It is striking. And it looks to Cohen like mob violence.

The international situation is parlous, indeed. Cohen believes that dialogue between Trump and Putin is necessary to defuse some of the dangers he sees. Surely, nuclear disarmament, the conflict in Syria, the situation in the Ukraine are more important than the issue of whether or not Trump made an empty and self-defeating dramatic gesture… denouncing the president of Russia to his face.

Cohen continued:

Look what they did to him today. They had a kangaroo court. They found him guilty. And then you had the former head of the U.S. CIA, who himself ought to be put under oath and asked about his role in inventing Russiagate, calling the President of the United States treasonous. What have we come to in this country? And what is going to happen in the future? 

Under these circumstances, Cohen is saying, diplomacy becomes increasingly difficult. If diplomacy is increasingly difficult, conflict is more likely.

He adds:

They see to hate or resent the idea of Trump as president, that they've lost all sense of American national security. If you ever get these people on, ask them this question. For yourself, for me, for the American people. Do you, these people who are hunting Trump. do you prefer trying to impeach Trump to trying to avert war with nuclear Russia? That is the bottom line, and that is where we're at today. 

And Cohen closes with a salient question, one that is rarely asked:

Let me ask you a question, you know D.C., why do these people dislike Putin, the president of post-communist Russia more than they ever seemed to dislike the communist leaders? 

Surely, he is right. The commentariat and the political class, especially on the left, is up in arms about Vladimir Putin. If Trump were not the Antichrist, Putin surely would be. Did these same great minds feel the same way about the leaders of the USSR? Not a chance.

While we are examining these issues, we also turn to Roger Simon at Pajamas Media. His views correlate with Cohen's and mine, which gives them special saliency. As to the question of whether or not Trump should have made the grand dramatic gesture of calling out Putin to his face on election meddling, Simon says:

What would that have accomplished? The obvious answer is zilch.  Again the opposite would most likely have occurred.  Things, already bad, would have been set back further.  It's human nature. You don't have to be a personal acquaintance of Vladimir Putin to know that.  You only have to be breathing.

On the larger issue, Simon is on the same page as Cohen:

Although Russia -- the largest nation on the planet -- is in many ways a failing state with an economy barely the size of Texas, it still has a huge percentage of the world's nuclear weapons, about equal with ours, and the capacity to deliver them (and to pass them along to unreliable non-state actors).  It behooves us to have a relationship with them for our survival and everybody else's, to keep our friends close and our enemies closer, as the Godfather would put it. The obvious goal in this is to limit nuclear proliferation and even to reduce, or at least stabilize, the nuclear arsenals as agreements come up for renewal.

Rather than worry our souls about drama, we should look at what Trump has done in conducting foreign policy toward Russia:

The bad cop part is what Trump actually does concretely -- and, as Putin certainly knows, this is far more important than photo ops and press conferences with all the attendant words.  Trump's actions vis-a-vis Russia have been considerably more stringent than his predecessor's -- opening the energy spigots, increasing sanctions, arming the Ukrainians, ejecting 60 Russian agents, etc.  As Walter Russell Mead pointed out, if Trump is in Putin's pocket, he's doing a terrible job of it.

Compare the Trump record with the Obama record, Simon says:

Barack Obama -- although the New York Times would burn down its own building rather than admit it -- did an abysmal job with Putin and was indeed the one who was truly "owned" by the Russian.  And it wasn't just the silly reset button and the embarrassing video of Barack whispering into Medvedev's ear to tell Vlad he -- Barack -- would be more flexible on missiles after the election.  (What a toady!)  Even worse, in his Chamberlainesque ardor to make a deal with Iran's mullahs, Obama let Putin play him in Syria, agreeing not to honor his redline against Assad's use of chemical weapons in order not to endanger the  deal.  Trump never did anything nearly that pathetic.  Actually, he stands up strong.

He continues:

But Trump's opponents don't care about results. Overwhelmed with hate, they would prefer to see the president wounded and impeached than succeed with Putin and bring about a world safer from nuclear armageddon.  If Trump achieves this, however, it will be his finest hour.  It would be for any president.

And, for those who care about history, what did the press and the pundits have to say when Franklin Roosevelt gave Josef Stalin control over Eastern Europe?

on “ridiculous” reaction to Trump-Putin presser: “FDR went to Yalta & consigned millions to their death in gulags because he gave Eastern Europe to Stalin, & yet they get angry & hysterical bec Trump is saying words they don’t want him to say”

Monday, July 16, 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Speaks Out on Israel

If you wanted to peek into the future of the Democratic Party, you could not do better than to examine the so-called mind of Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The media has embraced her as the future of the Democratic Party, so we ought to pay some attention.

Recently, Ocasio-Cortez appeared in the PBS program, Firing Line. In the course of her interview with Margaret Hoover, she was asked to clarify her views about Israel. As you know, Ocasio-Cortez, being a denizen of the fever swamps of the American left, sides with the Palestinians against Israeli occupation.

The Daily Wire has transcribed the exchange (via Instapundit):

New York socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attacked Israel in a recent interview on PBS's "Firing Line," calling them the occupiers of Palestine and later admitting that she has no idea what she is talking about regarding Israel.

Ocasio-Cortez's remarks came in response to a question from host Margaret Hoover, who asked her to explain comments she made about Israel after she attacked them for defending themselves against an attack from Hamas terrorists.

Ocasio-Cortez, who called the shooting a "massacre," said that she thinks that Israel has the right to "exist," adding, "but I also think that what people are starting to see, at least, in the occupation of Palestine, is just an increasing crisis of humanitarian condition. And that, to me, is just where I tend to come from on this issue."

Hoover then pressed Ocasio-Cortez, "You use the term 'the occupation of Palestine.' What do you mean by that?"

The 28-year-old socialist struggled, "Um... I think what I meant is ... like ... the settlements that are increasing in some of these areas and places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to their housing and homes."

Hoover: "Do you think you can expand on that?"

Ocasio-Cortez fumbled, "Yeah... I mean, I think ... I'd ... also just— I am not the expert on geo-politics on this issue."

Now we know, Ocasio-Cortez is not just an anti-Semite. She is also a moron. Good luck to all of the Democrats who are pinning their election hopes on her and her ilk. It will be bad news for America if any of them gain any real power in American politics.

The Dark Side of Enlightenment

By now, you have probably heard about the Enlightenment. If you believe Steven Pinker you would imagine that it was a great leap forward, replacing religious dogma with the unholy trinity of Reason, Science and Humanity.

By Pinker’s lights, the Enlightenment was a positive force, an ascendance of the Good, one that has brought progress and glory to the human species. Since Pinker likes to play with loaded dice, he argues that anything bad that followed the Enlightenment was produced by a counter-enlightenment, launched by those old souls who could not give up their Bibles and their faith.

As it happened, and has been often noted on this blog, there was not one but several Enlightenments. The German Enlightenment, propelled by Kant, gave us Marxism and even Nazism. From Hegel we arrived at Marx. From Nietzsche we got Hitler. To Pinker, it was all the counter-enlightenment.

And of course, there was the British Enlightenment, marked by notable figures like David Hume and Adam Smith. It was not an idealistic vision but an exercise in applied empirical thinking. It gave us capitalism and free trade. It has nothing to do with Kant or Rousseau. Pinker ignored it.

And then there was the French Enlightenment, launched by Rousseau, Voltaire and Diderot. It gave us the French Revolution, that wondrous effort to live in an age of Reason. Among its great achievements were the Reign of Terror and the invention of modern genocide. Yes, indeed, as we are reminded today, the French Revolution, inspired by Enlightenment philosophes, gave us genocide against people who practiced religion.

You did not think that the Enlightenment war on religion was limited to newspaper columns and pamphlets. When translated into reality, it produced unmitigated horrors. Before your eyes glaze over and you fail to understand the dark side of Enlightenment, you should consider the following.

The first modern genocide was perpetrated by the reigning Parisian philosopher kings against the people of a region called the Vendee.

John Zmirak has the story (via Maggie’s Farm):

But the first such modern genocide in the West took place in France, beginning in 1793. It was undertaken by modern, progressive apostles of Enlightenment and aimed at pious peasants in the Vendée region of France. By its end up to 300,000 civilians had been killed by the armies of the Republic.

By the year 1793 radical intellectuals had taken over the government of France. When farmers in the provinces refused to follow the Enlightened edicts that were being sent from Paris, the government decided to impose its will by force:

It was ordinary farmers of the Vendée and Brittany regions who rose up in 1793 against the middle-class radicals in Paris who controlled the country. The ideologues of the Revolution had already

  • Executed the king and queen, and left their young son to die of disease in prison.

  • Seized the Cathedral of Notre Dame, stripped it of Christian symbols, and enshrined a prostitute as the “Goddess of Reason” on the altar;

  • Declared a revolutionary “war of liberation” against most of the other countries in Europe;

  • Suspended all Protestant services, in deference to the state’s cult of Reason;

  • Seized all church property from Catholics, expelling thousands of monks, priests and nuns to fend for themselves, then sold the property to their cronies to raise money for their wars;

  • Ordered all clergy to swear allegiance to the government instead of the church; and

  • Launched the first universal conscription in history, drafting ordinary people — most of them devout peasants bewildered by the slogans that held sway in Paris—to fight for the Revolution.

You will note, and I do not really need to mention it, that Enlightened philosopher kings were not models of tolerance. They did not advance the values we call liberal democracy. They did not defend the right to free expression and to freedom of religion. To think otherwise is to blind oneself to the obvious.

And I would also note, that the philosopher kings of the French Revolution erected a cult to the goddess of Reason. It was a return to pagan idolatry. It could not have been otherwise.

As for the facts on the ground, here they are:

As Sophie Masson — herself a descendant of rebels who fought in the Vendée resistance — has written:

The atrocities multiplied, the exterminations systematic and initiated from the very top, and carried out with glee at the bottom. At least 300,000 people were massacred during that time, and those of the intruders who refused to do the job were either shot or discredited utterly. But still the people resisted. Still there were those who hid in the forests and ambushed, who fought as bravely as lions but were butchered like pigs when they were caught. No quarter was given; all the leaders were shot, beheaded or hanged. Many were not even allowed to rest in peace; the body of the last leader was cut up and distributed to scientists; his head was pickled in a jar, the brain examined to see where the seed of rebellion lay in the mind of a savage.…

 “Not one is to be left alive.” “Women are reproductive furrows who must be ploughed under.” “Only wolves must be left to roam that land.” “Fire, blood, death are needed to preserve liberty.” “Their instruments of fanaticism and superstition must be smashed.” These were some of the words the Convention used in speaking of the Vendée. Their tame scientists dreamed up all kinds of new ideas – the poisoning of flour and alcohol and water supplies, the setting up of a tannery in Angers which would specialise in the treatment of human skins; the investigation of methods of burning large numbers of people in large ovens so their fat could be rendered down efficiently. One of the Republican generals, Carrier, was scornful of such research: these “modern” methods would take too long. Better to use more time-honoured methods of massacre: the mass drownings of naked men, women and children, often tied together in what he called “republican marriages,” off specially constructed boats towed out to the middle of the Loire and then sunk; the mass bayoneting of men, women and children; the smashing of babies’ heads against walls; the slaughter of prisoners using cannons; the most grisly and disgusting tortures; the burning and pillaging of villages, towns and churches.

Revolutionary leaders destroyed the old order and tried to fill it with their thought. Not just thought that people were thinking, but thought that determined policy... especially policy that saw religion as an enemy in need of extermination.

The educational vacuum created by the destruction of this order was quickly (and ironically) filled by Enlightenment philosophes. The first generation to rise without the Jesuits would come of age in 1789. The abuses that would mark the Revolution — including mass executions of priests and nuns — were endorsed by intellectuals schooled on the slanderous pamphlets of Diderot, full of pornographic falsehoods about the “secret lives” of monks and nuns.

The next time you hear someone tout the glories of Enlightenment, remember the Vendee.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Will Trump and Putin Reach a Grand Bargain?

You have probably been hearing about Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin striking a grand bargain in Helsinki. True enough, Trump likes grand bargains. He sees Putin as someone to do business with. Better yet, he probably sees Putin as an adversary who should be a competitor, not an antagonist.

For this post, we examine the grand bargain: what it is, where it came from, what it might accomplish. And then, we will offer the counterarguments, why it’s a bad idea.

Adam Entous explained its origin in The New Yorker. The idea came from the crown price of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, an important player in Middle East diplomacy. MBZ, as he is called, is very close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. One notes that Israel also supports the grand bargain. A diplomatic rapprochement between Israel and its Arab neighbors has been ongoing for quite some time now. We have reported on it extensively.

Entous reports:

During a private meeting shortly before the November, 2016, election, Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, floated to a longtime American interlocutor what sounded, at the time, like an unlikely grand bargain. The Emirati leader told the American that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, might be interested in resolving the conflict in Syria in exchange for the lifting of sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Current and former U.S. officials said that bin Zayed, known as M.B.Z., was not the only leader in the region who favored rapprochement between the former Cold War adversaries. While America’s closest allies in Europe viewed with a sense of dread Trump’s interest in partnering with Putin, three countries that enjoyed unparallelled influence with the incoming Administration—Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E.—privately embraced the goal. Officials from the three countries have repeatedly encouraged their American counterparts to consider ending the Ukraine-related sanctions in return for Putin’s help in removing Iranian forces from Syria.

Who is MBZ?

M.B.Z. is regarded as one of the Middle East’s strategic thinkers. More than other Arab leaders of his generation, he hails from the school of Realpolitik. During the Obama Administration, M.B.Z. sought to establish closer ties between the U.A.E. and Putin, in the hope of encouraging Moscow to scale back its partnership with Iran, particularly in Syria. (Much like Israel, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia consider Iran their biggest strategic threat. They also lacked trust in President Obama.)

Since the Gulf states want to undermine Putin’s relationship with Iran, they have been investing in Russia and creating diplomatic ties with it:

As an inducement for Putin to partner with Gulf states rather than Iran, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia started making billions of dollars in investments in Russia and convening high-level meetings in Moscow, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and the Seychelles.

Israel is onboard with the grand bargain:

Israeli officials lobbied for rapprochement between Washington and Moscow soon after Trump’s election victory. In a private meeting during the transition, Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States and one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest confidants, said that the Israeli government was encouraging the incoming Trump Administration to coöperate more closely with Putin, starting in Syria, with the hope of convincing Moscow to push the Iranians to leave the country, an attendee told me.

Like M.B.Z., Netanyahu made courting Putin a priority, particularly after Russia’s military intervention in Syria in 2015. The Israeli leader wanted to insure that Israeli forces could continue to access Syrian airspace, which the Russians partially controlled, to prevent the deployment of advanced weapons systems by Iran and its proxies that could threaten the Jewish state. A senior Israeli official declined to comment on Dermer’s message but said that “Israel does believe it is possible to get a U.S.-Russian agreement in Syria that would push the Iranians out,” and that doing so “could be the beginning of an improvement in U.S.-Russian relations over all.”

As have the Saudis:

After Trump took office, the idea was raised again, by Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah bin Zayed, the foreign minister of the U.A.E., during a private March, 2017, dinner that included several other guests. “Their message was ‘Why don’t we lift the Ukrainian sanctions on Russia in exchange for getting the Russians to push Iran out of Syria,’ ” an attendee recalled the foreign ministers saying. A senior U.A.E. official said that he did not recall the discussion. The dinner attendee told me, “It wasn’t a trial balloon. They were trying to socialize the idea.”
If Trump wants to make a deal he will be doing it with important domestic winds in his face:

In addition to the looming Mueller investigation, members of Congress were pushing at the time to expand sanctions against Russia, not reduce them. Trump told aides that he was frustrated that he could not make progress because of political opposition in Washington. The Americans who heard the Israeli, Emirati, and Saudi pitches in late 2016 and early 2017 assumed that the idea was dead. But ahead of the Helsinki summit, Trump started making statements that suggested he could be open to making a deal with Putin after all.

Responding to the possibility of a grand bargain with Russia, Matthew Continetti writes in National Review that we tried it once, and that it did not work:

The national-security adviser was ecstatic. The presidents of the United States and of Russia had agreed to a ceasefire in Syria, where years of civil war had killed some half a million people and created refugees of millions more. “The United States remains committed to defeating ISIS, helping to end the conflict in Syria, reducing suffering, and enabling people to return to their homes,” the national-security adviser said. “This agreement is an important step toward these common goals.” Southwest Syria would become a zone of “de-confliction.” Among the provinces covered by the agreement: Daraa.

The national-security adviser was H.R. McMaster, the presidents were Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the time was July 2017, and the ceasefire lasted about eleven months. On June 18, 2018, Syrian government forces launched an offensive against the rebels in Daraa. And the government has since made rapid gains. The Syrian army and its Russian and Iranian allies are pushing up against the borders of both Israel and Jordan. The deal Trump and Putin made in Germany last year has gone the way of all such ceasefires in the Syrian conflict: It is extinct.

Of course, H. R. McMaster’s political service is also extinct. Apparently he made a bad deal.

Continetti does not believe that the Russians can be trusted at all. So much for trust and verify:

The Russians look at ceasefires and arms control the way you and I look at dieting and nutrition: as pledges that work to one’s advantage in the short term but are ineluctably broken. There is no reason to expect Russia has either the intent or even the capability to act on its promises of diplomatic comity. It’s almost as if Russia can’t help being the bully, especially in regions it considers important such as its near abroad and its beachhead in the Middle East, and especially when it senses an opportunity and feels emboldened. Which is how it feels right now.

And Continetti warns against American withdrawal from Syria— even though that does not appear to be a part of the grand bargain:

American withdrawal from Syria would be doubly self-defeating. Our support and reassurance mission there creates a situation of strength that balances the competing forces, prevents the Assad government from ever reestablishing full control, deters Turkey from becoming more involved in the conflict, and provides us intelligence and forward presence. Not only would we give all of that up with our departure, we also would remove the heavy boot that has been planted firmly on ISIS’ neck. If there is any lesson of American intervention in the early 21st century, it is that radical Islamic terrorism festers in places where no state or military has established a monopoly of lethal force. It would be the height of folly to create such a place in eastern Syria on purpose.

Continetti wants no deal at all:

Give me instead the four No’s: no sanctions relief; no recognition of Crimea; no withdrawal from Syria; and no more trusting in the words of Putin’s government. They are as worthless as the ruble.

Surely, he is persuasive. And yet, America and Russia cannot engage in constructive diplomacy unless they can make deals. We made deals with the USSR. Does it make sense to say that we should never deal with Vladimir Putin?

Mr. Trump Goes to Helsinki

As President Trump gets ready for his summit meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, two American groups are extremely anguished. Survivors of the Obama administration believe either that Trump should call the meeting off or that he will be manhandled by the Russian leader. As everyone has pointed out by now, Barack Obama was in way over his head dealing with Putin. In dealing with Russia Obama acted like Putin’s bitch.

Considering how weak Obama was, his flunkies should have the decency not to criticize the current president.

We must add that the #NeverTrump neoconservative right has lathered itself up into a frenzy over Donald Trump. Mindless rant follows mindless rant follows expression of extreme anguish… and the Trump-Putin summit provides yet another opportunity for them to caterwaul… to show off their superior mental acuity by acting as though they do not have minds.

We, on this blog seek to promote the exercise of our rational faculties. We seek a fair and balanced unemotional analysis of the stakes in the upcoming summit.

Where do we turn for such perspective? Why, to The Nation, and especially to Russia expert Stephen Cohen, whose conversations with one John Batchelor have been appearing regularly in that publication. We note, for the uninitiated, that no one has ever considered The Nation an arm of the vast right wing conspiracy.

The Nation reports Cohen’s analysis, clearly and succinctly. We note that Cohen has little appreciation for the anti-Trump leftist establishment.

To begin, the context of a Russo-American summit:

… US-Russian (Soviet and post-Soviet) summits are a long tradition going back to FDR’s wartime meeting with Stalin in Yalta in 1943. Every American president since FDR met with a Kremlin leader in a summit-style format at least once, several doing so multiple times. The purpose was always to resolve conflicts and enhance cooperation in relations between the two countries. Some summits succeeded, some did not, but all were thought to be an essential aspect of White House-Kremlin relations.

In previous summits, the American president had strong bipartisan support. Not so, Donald Trump.

The Nation continues:

And never before has a president’s departure—in Trump’s case, first for a NATO summit and then the one with Putin—been accompanied by allegations that he is disloyal to the United States and thus cannot be trusted, defamations once issued only by extremist fringe elements in American politics. Now, however, we are told this daily by mainstream publications, broadcasts, and “think tanks.” According to a representative of the Clintons’ Center for American Progress, “Trump is going to sell out America and its allies.” The New York Times and The Washington Postalso feature “experts”—they are chosen accordingly—who “worry” and “fear” that Trump and Putin “will get along.” The Times of London, a bastion of Russophobic Cold War advocacy, captures the mainstream perspective in a single headline: “Fears Grow Over Prospect of Trump ‘Peace Deal’ with Putin.”

Cohen is disturbed to see the American left preferring impeachment to peace:

An anti-“peace” Washington establishment is, of course, what still-unproven Russiagate allegations have wrought, as summed up by a New York magazine writer who advises us that the Trump-Putin summit may well be “less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.” The charge is hardly original, having been made for months at MSNBC by the questionably credentialed “intelligence expert” Malcolm Nance and the, it seems, selectively informed Rachel Maddow, among many other “experts.” Considering today’s perilous geopolitical situation, it is hard not to conclude that much of the American political establishment, particularly the Democratic Party, would prefer trying to impeach Trump to averting war with Russia, the other nuclear superpower. For this too, there is no precedent in American history.

And of course, Cohen has a few choice words for those who have been extolling NATO and the liberal world order… especially because they can make it appear that Trump is destroying it:

Not surprisingly, Trump’s dreaded visit to the NATO summit has only inflated the uncritical cult of that organization, which has been in search of a purpose and ever more funding since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. The New York Times declares that NATO is “the core of an American-led liberal world order,” an assertion that might startle many of the non-military institutions involved and even some liberals. No less puzzling is the ritualistic characterization of NATO as “the greatest military alliance in history.” It has never—thankfully—gone to war as an alliance, only a few “willing” member (and would-be member) states under US leadership. Even then, what counts as “great victories”? The police action in the Balkans in the 1990s? The disasters in the aftermath of Iraq and Libya? The longest, still-ongoing American war in history, in Afghanistan? NATO’s only real mission since the 1990s has been expanding to Russia’s borders, and that has resulted in less, not more, security for all concerned, as is evident today. The only “Russian threat” since the end of the Soviet Union is one provoked by the US-led NATO itself, from Georgia and Ukraine to the Baltic states. And only NATO’s vast corporate bureaucracy, its some 4,000 employees housed in its new $1.2 billion headquarters in Brussels, and US and other weapons manufacturers who gain from each new member state, have profited. But none of this can be discussed in the mainstream, because Trump uttered a few words questioning NATO’s role and funding, even though the subject has been on the agenda of several think tanks since the 1990s.

You would think that the mainstream media is comprised of hostile actors whose wish to bring down Trump overcomes, not only their reason, but their love of country… to say nothing of their concern for facts.

Cohen sees opportunity in the Helsinki meeting. He notes importantly that Russia and America have a great deal to discuss… and that diplomacy is far better than war. If the two leaders can forge an alliance, or a working understanding, surely that is a good thing:

Also not surprisingly, and unlike in the past, mainstream media have found little place for serious discussion of today’s dangerous conflicts between Washington and Moscow: regarding nuclear-weapons-imitation treaties, cyber-warfare, Syria, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Black Sea region, even Afghanistan. It’s easy to imagine how Trump and Putin could agree on conflict-reduction and cooperation in all of these realms. But considering the traducing by the PostTimes, and Maddow of a group of senators who visited Moscow around July 4, it’s much harder to see how the defamed Trump could implement such “peace deals.” (There is a long history of sabotaging or attempting to sabotage summits and other détente-like initiatives. Indeed, a few such attempts have been evident in recent months and more may lie ahead.)

And yet, Cohen is arguing, the media and Congressional hostility to all things Trump will make it that much more difficult to make any deals.

Cohen believes at the least that the summit will restore diplomatic process… which is a step in the right direction. He reserves his most pointed criticism for the Democratic Party:

Even if nothing more specific is achieved, everyone who cares about American and international security should hope that the Trump-Putin summit results at least in a restoration of the diplomatic process, the longstanding “contacts,” between Washington and Moscow that have been greatly diminished, if not destroyed, by the new Cold War and by Russiagate allegations. Cold War without diplomacy is a recipe for actual war.

We should also hope that the Democratic Party’s reaction to the summit, in its pursuit of Trump, does not make it the party of unrelenting Cold War, as it may be already becoming.

Remember, you read it in The Nation.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

America's Sometime European Allies

For the leftist media and the leftist intelligentsia it’s all Trump’s fault. No matter what happens, it’s Trump’s fault. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s all Trump’s fault.

Relations with our so-called European allies are fraying. It’s Trump’s fault. Angela Merkel approves a gas deal that will fund Putin’s Russia. It’s Trump’s fault… for colluding with Russia. Theresa May cannot produce a Brexit deal. It’s all Trump’s fault. Western Europe is being overrun by Muslim migrants. It’s all Trump’s fault.

It seems like a good time to take a step back, to take a deep breath and to examine the policies that our Western European allies are pursuing. We know that they are hot to trot to make deals with Iran. 

And yet, in the rest of the world, a new alliance of Middle Eastern nations, from Saudi Arabia to the Emirates to Israel, is joining with America to fight Iran-backed terrorism. And we know that Eastern European nations have moved closer to the American alliance.

As for Western Europe, its leaders recently held a meeting in Vienna with top Iranian officials. The purpose: to save the Obama Iran nuclear deal. Also in attendance, Russian and Chinese officials. 

Western Europe is in denial. In severe denial. It believes that Barack Obama is still president. After all, he kowtowed to them. Trump does not. It's all Trump's fault.

The Vienna meeting was convened by EU foreign policy chief, Fernanda Mogherini. Its purpose was simple: to figure out how to circumvent American sanctions against Iran and to keep doing business with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Caroline Glick calls it appeasement. Surely, she is correct.

Glick has the story:

Last Friday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini presided over a curious summit in Vienna. In the same hall where she and her colleagues concluded the nuclear deal with Iran three years ago, Mogherini and her comrades tried to concoct ways to save the deal by undermining American power and defying its decision to abandon the deal.

Mogherini was joined in her efforts by the German, French and British foreign ministers. Sitting opposite them were Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers. Together they brainstormed ways to undermine the economic sanctions the US will begin implementing next month against Iran and anyone from anywhere that trades with Iran.

Who is leading the charge to keep funding the Iranian regime? You guessed it, Angela Merkel’ Germany. You might have imagined that the oh-so-empathetic Germans, who once led the world in anti-Semitism, would be slightly wary about funding a regime that wants to kill Jews. You would be wrong. The self-appointed leader of the liberal world order, Barack Obama’s European mini-me has no compunctions at all. 

BTW, did you notice at the NATO summit how dumpy Merkel looked. She did not look like she was even in charge of her own wardrobe. Pathetic....

Glick explains:

The Germans apparently are the keenest to continue the money flow to Tehran. Bild, a Berlin-based tabloid, reported on Tuesday that Iran has asked the European-Iranian Trade Bank, which is majority owned by Iranian state-owned banks but registered in Hamburg with the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, to permit it to withdraw €350 million in cash. The Iranians intend to fly the cash to Tehran to avoid the prospect of the accounts being frozen once US sanctions are reimposed. According to the Bild report, the German government supports the cash transfer. The Merkel government believes the Iranian claim that the money will be distributed to Iranian businessmen who will be barred from using credit cards in international commerce due to the US sanctions.

The Germans apparently are happy to ignore the fact that Iran routinely uses cash to pay for its wars in Syria and Yemen. Iran regularly transfers millions of dollars in cash to Hamas in Gaza. Cash is its routine method of financing Hezbollah and its terror empire in Lebanon and throughout the world – including in Germany.

The Germans don’t care about that. Their goal is not to prevent terror. Their goal is to flood Iran with money.

Of course, Glick continues, the Mogherini summit was convened just before President Trump arrived in Brussels. Thus, it expressed contempt for America.

Mogherini’s summit in Vienna was a statement of deep contempt for the US. Days before US President Donald Trump was scheduled to arrive on the continent, the leaders of Europe publicly colluded with Iran, China and Russia to undermine and weaken America. While shocking in and of itself, Europe’s behavior didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

Mogherini has been publicly attacking the US for walking away from the nuclear deal and declaring her allegiance to the pact three times a day, every day since May 8 when Trump announced he was pulling the US out of it and reimposing sanctions on Iran.

What we didn’t know until recently is why Mogherini and her colleagues have chosen to stand with Iran against America. 

Of course, the weak-kneed Western Europeans ignored the fact that Iran has been setting up terrorist networks in their cities. Just before the meeting, Iranian terrorists planned to bomb a rally in Paris:

So in under a week, an Iranian terror cell tried to blow up a rally in Paris and Europe’s leaders reacted by hosting their bosses in a fancy hall and promising them billions of dollars and a nuclear arsenal within a decade in defiance of the US. 

The Western European policy is raw appeasement. They believe that their cowardice will ensure that Iran does not attack them. If Iran attacks someone else, they do not care:

As to the policy itself, Europe’s Iran policy is a policy of pure appeasement, based on profound weakness. Mogherini and her comrades are fully aware that Iran can cause them harm and intends to cause them harm. Through payoffs and betrayal of the US they hope to convince the Iranians to attack someone else instead of them. They don’t care if it’s Israel or Saudi Arabia or America. As far as the Europeans are concerned, Iran can kill whoever it wants, so long as it doesn’t attack Europe. 

This is Europe’s Iran policy. It has no other policy.

We note that the leaders of Western Europe are mostly women—Emmanuel Macron excepted. Of course, Macron married his mother, which does not put him the running to be alpha male. Thus, in response to Donald Trump’s machismo, Europe’s women have fashioned a policy that is all about appeasement and weakness. It’s girl power. Just don't say that they aren't strong and empowered.

Western Europe hates Trump, Glick continues, because he exposes their weakness:

Trump scares the Europeans. He doesn’t scare them because he expects them to pay for their own defense. All of his predecessors had the same expectation. He frightens the Europeans because he ignores their rhetoric while mercilessly exposing their true policy and refuses to accept it. They are scared that Trump intends to exact a price from them for their weak-kneed treachery.

As for the Vienna summit, it turned out to be a colossal failure. European businesses know who has the power and they know that it is not in the hands of the EU:

The summit in Vienna was a dud. Like Trump, the Iranians understand that European rhetoric gets them nowhere. European banks aren’t willing to lose the American market for Iran. Likewise, European conglomerates are pulling out of deals with Iran one after another to avoid US sanctions.

So, it was all posturing and show. It was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Europe’s attempts to fashion its own foreign policy exposed its fundamental weakness. As the old saying goes: all hat, and no cattle.