Monday, September 21, 2015

The Decline and Fall of Islam

Intellectuals love to play with big ideas. The bigger the ideas, the more they impress people. Thus do intellectuals influence, if not control the way other people think … and act.

After the fall of Communism everyone’s favorite big idea was the end of history. Minds were ablaze with Francis Fukuyama’s belief that history had come to an end and that liberal democracy and free enterprise had emerged victorious. To establish his intellectual bona fides Fukuyama claimed that recent events had proven that this fulfilled Hegel's prophecy. Nothing quite like a little German idealism to make you look really, really right.

In what must count as a world-historical intellectual irony, the losers in the great civilizational war, the Communists, had been inspired by the same German philosopher. It was as though good Hegel had defeated bad Hegel.

It was enough to make any thoughtful person suspicious.

What happened when governments decided to conduct American policy under the aegis of Fukuyama? For one they defended the Iraq War by saying that they were going to bring democracy to the Middle East. Starry eyed conservative idealists—how’s that for a contradiction in terms—told us that democracy was going to overtake the Middle East. When the Arab spring broke out, they and many liberals cheered their own brilliance and prescience.

Remind us how that all worked out?

We know what republican government looks like in Iran. As for Iraq, the results are too well known. We know what happened in Gaza when we foolishly promoted democratic elections. And we know what happened in Egypt when they had their first free democratic elections after Mubarak.

The apotheosis of the Fukuyama world view was supposed to be the Arab Spring. If the Bush administration was wrong to say that it was bringing democracy to the Arab world through the force of arms, the Obama administration, pusillanimously, stepped aside to allow democracy to flourish. Think about it: if history is over and liberal democracy is the only viable political system, the World Spirit will bring it to pass without your having to do anything consequential.

We know how that worked out.

In the meantime, David Goldman has been promoting a newer big idea to frame the current historical epoch. It’s not about the way the Hegelian World Spirit will naturally be actualized in liberal democracies, but about how the defining event of our time is the decline and fall of Muslim civilization. It's not for nothing that he calls himself Spengler.

To his great credit, Goldman suggests that what matters is how well our diplomats and politicians manage the problem. The outcome, he suggests, is not inevitable. Thus, we might get it right and we might get it wrong. Up to now we have not even gotten it.

Note well , managing a situation is not the same as sitting back or intervening to allow the flowering of a grand historical idea. Goldman does not mention it in this article, but George Bush the elder managed the fall of the Soviet Union skillfully.

Goldman has presented this idea before, and, considering what has been happening across the Middle East and Europe, he is looking more and more correct.

In a recent article for the Asia Times Goldman wrote:

The great task of diplomacy in the 21st century is a sad and dreary one, namely managing the decline of Muslim civilization. There is a parallel to the great diplomatic problem of the late 19th and early 20th century, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, which the diplomats bungled horribly.

But, who will do it? Who will step up and take charge of the situation? Surely, not an Obama administration that doesn’t have a clue about what is going on and that has already mismanaged the situation into near-oblivion. And not the European community that has lost the will to fight for much of anything, except perhaps for special privileges provided by governments.

Goldman continued:

It is no job for the idealistic, namely the Americans, nor for the squeamish, namely the Europeans. The breakdown of civil order in a great arc from Beirut to Basra has already displaced 20 million people and raised the world refugee count from 40 million in 2011 to 60 million in 2014, with scores of millions at risk. After it failed to build democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States fell into a sullen torpor in which serious discussion of intervention in the regime is excluded. The hypocritical Europeans averted their eyes until millions of desperate people appeared on their doorstep, and remain clueless in the face of the worst humanitarian crisis since the last world war.

Enter Vladimir Putin. In the absence of American and European leadership someone had to step up and to step in. One understands that Putin has many reasons, most of them not very good, for wanting to be involved in the Middle East.

Being a contrarian, Goldman dares to suggest that Putin’s intervention might be a bulwark against further anarchy. Someone, he is saying, has to lead. And, since Europe and America don’t want the job, Putin decided to seize the opportunity.

In Goldman’s words:

That leaves Vladimir Putin as the last, best hope of a region already halfway over the brink into the abyss. 

He believes that the best we can do right now is an armistice. Assuming that it is not too late, that is. What would it look like?

He explained:

A lasting armistice is possible only if the great powers combine to twist the arms of Iran, Turkey, and the Gulf States. Iran has to ground the IRGC and disengage from Hezbollah (it might be a good time to do so, now that Hezbollah has had 1,000 of its 12,000 full-time fighters killed in Syria, with twice that probably wounded). Turkey has to end its covert support for ISIS as a counterweight to the Kurds. Saudi Arabia has to police its rogue princes and cut off covert funding for jihadi movements. Russia with some help from China can twist arms in Tehran while the Americans and the Saudis can give an ultimatum to Ankara.

He concluded:

History brought forth a great moment, Friedrich Schiller wrote of the French Revolution, but the moment encountered mediocre people. Putin has a chance to be great, contrary to his past record and to all expectation. He is not quite the Zeitgeist on horseback, but he is the key to a possible solution. We will learn soon what he is made of. I have long believed that the most likely outcome of Islam’s civilizational crisis is a body count that would beggar the last century’s world wars. One hopes to be proven wrong about such things.

Schiller notwithstanding, the French Revolution was not a great moment or a great opportunity. It was more a great mistake, one that was not going to end well, regardless. After all, it was fueled by the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, not those of Edmund Burke. Once you live an historical moment as a great drama and fuel it with great passion, you will have a devilishly difficult time turning it into a negotiation. It is more likely to have to be allowed to exhaust itself. For all we know, there may have been great people around at the time. Yet, the events would certainly have devoured anyone who tried to find a compromise.

Still, we need to be optimistic. I agree with Goldman that we do better to hope and to try to find solutions than to be pessimistic and let it play itself out. Right now, since the theatre has moved into Europe, this seems like sage advice.And yet, so much blood has been spilled; so many people are wandering homeless across Europe, that one feels like one is hoping against hope.

In effect, Putin might be able to forge an armistice between the warring parties. And yet, he is a strong man playing a weak hand… not exactly inspiring confidence. 

Keep in mind, diplomacy requires diplomats and America’s current leaders do not understand diplomacy any more than they understand anything else. You might even ask yourself which of the presidential candidates, from either party, seems to you to be up to the task of managing the decline of Muslim civilization or dealing with Putin.

Carly Fiorina does not want to talk with Putin at all. Marco Rubio wants us to get tough with Putin. And Donald Trump wants to sit down and negotiate with him.

If Goldman is right and Putin is a major player in the Middle East, then the Trump approach seems the best. The only problem is, can someone who has never played the game of multinational diplomacy negotiate effectively with a master of the game?

For now, the Obama-Kerry foreign policy team seems to want to deal with Putin, but, one suspects that, having produced a goodly part of the problem by having retreated from the region, they will like supplicants at the court of the new man in charge.


Anonymous said...

So what your saying with the decline of the Progressive and Islam, I can expect WW III any day now.

Ares Olympus said...

So "Starry eyed conservative idealists" are the neocons?

Ah, yes. Like this 2 year old article by Goldberg. How neocons and Obama liberals have created catastrophe by consensus in the Middle East

I do have to agree whatever the big picture says that local civil war and failed states are going to continue to cause chaos and refugees in the world.

It does get interesting to imagine how the future form. People are afraid the expanding latino population in the U.S. will lower our greatness or whatever, and perhaps if a sizeable Muslim population comes here, we have the same fears. Yet it makes more sense to show our greatness by letting people come here and experience what freedom looks like, at least if the religious conservatives can stop trying to make America in their own image long enough to make others feel welcome with different ideas.

But myself, I'm not sure of America's greatness, unless it is the greatness that allowed us to financially take over the world, and use financial warfar to control others, and helped create a race to the bottom of fiat money that must end badly for all.

It does look like our money system will sink us, although in the end it might look like bankruptcy from war. At least money isn't real, if only we could trust the bankers were on our side, not just their own.

KCFleming said...

" makes more sense to show our greatness by letting people come here and experience what freedom looks like...

I imagine they'll respond just like they have in Germany, where they are now demanding that Oktoberfest be stopped because it is anti-Islamic.

They're not immigrating, they're invading.
They hate freedom, they hate the US, and they hate its people.

Far from embracing the Constitution and liberty, they want to establish a world caliphate, and have made that aim quite well known.
But you ignore their own words.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @September 21, 2015 at 10:49 AM:

"Yet it makes more sense to show our greatness by letting people come here and experience what freedom looks like, at least if the religious conservatives can stop trying to make America in their own image long enough to make others feel welcome with different ideas."

What do you think America is... a freedom theme park? Do you think if we get enough people through the gate, they'll just get it by osmosis? I don't understand people like you who want to bend over backwards to get, understand and accommodate every group that comes into this country. It's crazy. If you emigrate to any non-Western country in the world, you are not welcomed, coddled and catered to. The existence of the American people as a unified culture is -- by definition -- a testimony to assimilation and assent. Nowadays, in our postmodern age, we think assimilation is genocide and assent is a violation of conscience. Yet our ancestors didn't get a break or a handout. They had to adjust and sacrifice. I don't speak Gaelic, my friends don't speak German, Italian or Polish. We speak English. Are we in England? No. Your keen desire to "make others feel welcome with different ideas" just makes no sense whatsoever. What do you think this country is, a #$@%ing library? We know that bilingual education sets Hispanic immigrants back in terms of their education and earning power, yet we continue to do it because we don't want anyone to get upset. Intellectually we say "Freedom isn't free," but we don't practice it. We act as though freedom is an abstraction we get from some cosmic vending machine... or the Supreme Court (not much difference, given the quality and reasoning of recent SCOTUS decisions).

What people are concerned about with Islam is that it is a non-Christian religion whose scripture mandates conquest of people of other faiths by any means necessary. And it is totalitarian in application, recognizing no distinction between church and state. I don't think it's too far out to say that such a worldview is unsettling to most American sensibilities. Now, one can say that there are lots of Muslim countries that are more secular and have found peace. But what is the trend? Is the number of those countries growing? We can sit here and make fun of America for being ignorant of Islam, which is true in many cases. But Islam is ignorant of the Great Satan, too. What they see in us as barbaric we view as our culture and way of life. What we view in them as barbaric is the religious totalitarianism that doesn't express itself through peace, but through savage wars of conquest in its name. ISIS is the latest iteration. We are witnessing a decline.

Regarding your point about "religious conservatives," would you like to invite religious conservatives from other countries to emigrate here under the guise of being hapless "Syrian refugees" so we can have some theological battle royale? To Pogo's point, when does immigration become an invasion?

"I do have to agree whatever the big picture says that local civil war and failed states are going to continue to cause chaos and refugees in the world."

Aren't you one of these people who thinks we shouldn't get involved in the world? I remember you saying this many times. It's a false sense of security, because eventually the world comes to find you.

As I have said before, you bear little goodwill, Ares. You are an extremely dark, cynical and snide writer. If you find it funny, I assure you there are many of us who do not find it funny. If that's your point -- to annoy people -- you're a tremendous success, but it's not one to be proud of. If you DO find joy in annoying people, you might want to take a look in the mirror and consider that you're quite unhappy. It's easy to be a critic. You don't seem to like America too much, but I don't hear you offering much to make it better.

priss rules said...

To his credit, Fukuyama admitted he was wrong about Iraq.

Charles Krauthammer and others like him never did. If anything, they attacked Fukuyama for admitting error and jumping the neocon ship.

But Fukuyama as 'realist' is no better because he has no problem with the new US policy of undermining the ENTIRE Middle East and sparking confrontation with Russia over Ukraine.

Anonymous said...

Islam has proved itself dysfunctional in the extreme, so it makes No sense whatsoever to admit huge numbers of Muslims into the West. Yes, they love our standard of living and economic opportunities (especially the welfare handouts of western Europe) but disdain the culture that makes all of this possible. In Europe they demand that non-Muslims adhere to sharia, a law system that is completely antithetical to liberal democracy. Bring enough Muslims to North America and we will soon encounter the same demand. Enough. I prefer Goldman's original suggestion, that the rest of the world find some way to contain the rot and violent demise of the Islamic world to the Islamic world. Stop trying to institute democracies, stop propping up corrupt regimes, stop selling them arms and technology, stop permitting them to immigrate to the West. The operative idea here is to STOP WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DOING IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY. It isn't working, and may drag us down with the ding Muslim countries.