“Muqtada and the Mahdi” Part Two by Amatzia Baram

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34 Responses to “Muqtada and the Mahdi” Part Two by Amatzia Baram

  1. Thanks so much for posting Amatzia Baram’s paper. It is absolutely fascinating.
    …significant leaders both in Iraq and in Iran are encouraging the public to believe that they are living in a crucial historical moment and that they should expect some kind of apocalypse.
    Too bad most Americans don’t understand the religious movements operating on both sides. I was going to call them both radical. But it’s time to stop categorizing them within the bounds of our own beliefs and just factor them into our analysis of the situation.
    That’s not an easy task for me.

  2. jamzo says:

    thank you
    you document is informative
    sadr’s personal relationship with his god reminds me of tv evangelist pat robertson others who expect an imminent “second coming”,
    religon and politics are a mighty mixture
    when military force is added to the mix it is deadly
    i had not thought aobut religous wars as a contemporary phenomenon until recently
    i am most concerned about the concept of shia law and its emergence as a form of political aggrandisement
    recently the bbc has featured news reports on controversial proposals to allow domestic relations (divorce, marraige, etc) to be administered by imans in lieu of british civil law
    in some respects it is a reasonable request but it also a rejection of civil authority and a demand to carve-out some of the power of the community and place it in the hands of the officials of a religon
    i have become accustomed to thinking of resolving religous conflicts by talk and appeal to laws guaranteeing religous freedom
    our so-called culture-wars are thinly-disguised religous conflicts
    i do not like the prospect of religous conflict and milatary force and wonder what diplomatic strategies will need to be articulated to combat “armed religon”

  3. Jose says:

    Colonel, can you please post a bio on this gentleman?

  4. Charles Cameron says:

    Many thanks, Col. Lang. I very much appreciate your posting Dr. Baram’s article, and my gratitude to Dr. Baram, too.

  5. Paul says:

    This is excellent background information about the forces at work in Iraq. It is especially valuable because it is a “direct” document as opposed to the multi-edited (and feel good)”news” published by our government.
    The piece demonstrates the futility of democracy in Iraq anytime soon. A learned senior Egyptian procurement officer once told me that a lot of places in the middle east were not governments, per se, but more appropriately “tribes with flags”.
    Let’s have more direct source papers.

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    A few points:
    Mr. Sadr does not have the scholarly credentials to issue an opinion on (Religious) Law – he is not a Mudjtahid.
    Shia Traditions stipulate that the Hidden Imam will emerge in Mecca (together with Jesus); not in Iran or Iraq or anywhere else.
    Sometime after the Iranian Revolution Ayatollah Khomeini was approached by 3 individuals (2 Men and a Woman) who claimed to be representatives of the 12-th Imam.
    He declined to meet with them unless they could answer 3 questions, one of which had to the with the philosophical resolution to the problem of the “Mahdath” (created in time) vs. “Qadim” (outside of time) as regards the Act of Creation. They did not come back with an answer and he never met them.
    Ayatollah Sistani could certainly pose similar challenges to Mr. Sadr but he has chosen not to do so and nor has any other Ayatollah inside or outside of Iraq.
    The statements of Dr. Ahmadinejad regarding the wish for Mahdi’s imminent arrival is cliché; in my opinion. They are uttered in a similar vein as G.H.W. Bush ending almost every speech with “God Bless the United States of America”.
    I disagree with the conclusions of this paper: “…that they should expect some kind of apocalypse”. I do not believe that this is warranted by the evidence.
    US is in a religious war with a minority of Sunni Muslims. US is not, as yet, in a religious war with Shia Muslims.

  7. I disagree with the conclusions of this paper: “…that they should expect some kind of apocalypse”. I do not believe that this is warranted by the evidence.
    Can you add some detail to why you disagree?
    As a note, my remark concerning “both sides” meant our evangelical fundamentalists and the Shia discussed in the paper. I’m seeing less and less difference between the two.
    Shia Traditions stipulate that the Hidden Imam will emerge in Mecca (together with Jesus); not in Iran or Iraq or anywhere else.
    Does Shia Tradition hold as much theological weight as tradition does in Roman Catholicism?

  8. Andy says:

    Hmmm. have you heard what Bernard Lewis has to say? I haven’t read his books but ran across this yesterday:

    “Iran’s leadership comprises a group of extreme fanatical Muslims who believe that their messianic times have arrived,” Lewis said. “This is quite dangerous. Though Russia and the U.S. both had nuclear weapons, it was clear that they would never use them because of MAD — mutual assured destruction. Each side knew it would be destroyed if it would attack the other.”
    “But with these people in Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent factor, but rather an inducement,” Lewis said. “They feel that they can hasten the final messianic process. This is an extremely dangerous situation of which it is important to be aware.”

    I’ve never quite believed that twelvers have the influence in Iran that so many claim, but this is a subject I know little about. Iran seems rather factionalized, actually, which I think accounts for some of its more curious policy decisions.
    Anyway, Lewis’ statement struck me because he’s so influential and absolutist nature of the statement. Whenever I hear such absolutist statements regarding a general population of people, be it Iranians, French, Republicans or liberals, the red flags immediately go up.

  9. Homer says:

    This was interesting.
    After having whetted my appetite, I am now wondering if Dr. Amatzia Baram would be willing to specifically comment in detail on the dynamic between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iranian and (!!) American backed ISCI (formerly SCIRI)?
    Plus, I’d then like to learn more about al-Dawa’s and the SCIRI’s views on the Mahdi.

  10. David Habakkuk says:

    Andy, Babak Makkinejad,
    As Bernard Lewis’s academic reputation played such a major role in the dissemination of the misconceptions on which the invasion of Iraq was based, and his anticipations turned out be so wide of the mark, some of us are rather inclined to treat his views on Iran with scepticism. An interesting discussion of academic debates about his work by Michael Hersh in Washington Monthly, entitled ‘Bernard Lewis Revisited’, is available at http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0411.hirsh.html.
    I am also always somewhat amused when neoconservatives suggest that MAD between the United States and the Soviet Union was stable — as so many of them spent the Cold War insisting that the Soviets were so fanatically committed to ‘world domination’ that MAD was not stable.
    This is very clear in the document from which neoconservative views of Soviet military strategy largely stem, the key NSC 68 paper of April 1950. As the ‘existence and persistence of the idea of freedom is a permanent threat to the foundation of the slave society,’ the paper argues, ‘it therefore regards as intolerable the long continued existence of freedom in the world.’ And it goes on to claim that there is ‘no justification in Soviet theory or practice for predicting that, should the Kremlin become convinced that it could cause our downfall by one conclusive blow, it would not seek that solution.’ This apocalyptic vision of an insouciant Soviet leadership, quite happy to risk nuclear war, is carried through into the writings of Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter — notably Albert’s 1958 paper on The Delicate Balance of Terror. Hence, with some assistance from Senator Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson and Richard Pipes, it is carried through into the thinking of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.
    It is interesting to look at what the State Department’s most experienced (and in my view best) Soviet specialist of the time thought about NSC 68. In a memorandum to Dean Acheson he sent on October 9, 1951, Charles Bohlen accused the authors of NSC 68 and its successor papers of willed disregard of Soviet reality and of allowing propaganda to contaminate analysis:
    ‘No attempt whatsoever [Bohlen wrote] is made to analyze the great body of Soviet thought in regard to war between states or the even more elementary fact that any war, whether the prospect of victory be dim or bright, carries with it major risks to the Soviet system in Russia. The fact of war alone, its attendant mobilization, added strain on an already strained economy, exposure of Soviet soldiers to external influences, the entire problem of defection, the relationship of party to Army, the question of the peasantry and many other factors, which I am convinced are preponderantly present in Soviet thinking on any question of war, are either ignored or treated as insignificant. In short, it would appear that this series, designed merely to justify the need for military buildup, strays in a rather superficial and unnecessary way from incontestable truths which afford ample justification for military buildup.’
    Obviously, a similar suspicion that propaganda is contaminating analysis arises when neoconservatives start portraying the Iranian regime as reckless in precisely the way they habitually portrayed the Soviet regime as being. This is particularly so, given that Ahmadinejad’s statements about Israel have been mistranslated in a way palpably designed to create maximum panic over the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
    Whether this means Babak Makkinejad is right to suggest that one can discount his statements about the reappearance of the Imam as being ‘uttered in a similar vein as G.H.W. Bush ending almost every speech with ”God Bless the United States of America”, rather than accepting Dr Baram’s more alarmist interpretation, I do not have the expertise to judge. I would like to see accurate translations of his statements, and more discussion from people familiar with the Iranian contexts.
    In any case, as I understand it, Ahmadinejad is not in control of Iranian foreign policy. If Professor Lewis can provide quotations from those who are which give substance to the charge that they should be seen as collection of fanatics willing to risk nuclear annihilation, I will take his views more seriously.
    As regards Dr Baram’s portrait of al-Sadr, however, this does not strike me as a portrait of a religious fanatic who will happily court annihilation. It seems to rather more like the portrait of an extremely adept populist politician, for whom the claims to direct contact with the Mahdi are an invaluable means of compensating for the lack of theological legitimacy which Babak Makkinejad describes. Of course, this does not mean that al-Sadr does not believe what he says. But there may be a lot of ‘doublethink’ in this.

  11. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Dr. Lewis was, at one time, a good historian specially of Arabs and later Modern Turkey. I think he is out of his depth speaking about Shia Islam and Iran. Savory and Mottahedeh are better historians of Iran and the Shia than him.
    In regards to the Twelve Imam Shia’s influence in Iran; it is very deep and very pervasive. Iran is a country that exists because of Shia Islam. People who emphsis the Persian character of that state do not know or do not understand the sociology of that society.
    His statements regarding the Iranian leaders and the Iranian people are false – this is not an opinion of mine. I believe that any one with knowledge of Persian language will reach the same conclusion as I.
    You are quite right to be suspicious of these types of generalized statements and the burden of proof rests on him.
    Moreover, Dr. Lewis is not speaking of MAD as applied between US and Iran (a joke surely) but MAD between Iran and Israel.

  12. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Cold War Zoomie:
    I have not come across utterances by the members of the Shia religious hierarchy that encourages the belief in the imminent arrival of the Mahdi – however desirable that might be. There might be fringe Shia groups that might subscribe to such a notion but they are politically and religiously irrelevant.
    The existence of the Eschatological texts among various religions does not imply equivalent social, political, or religious responses to those texts. I think there is something mighty peculiar about the social and cultural scene in the United States in which millions of people seem to crave fantasies in which the current world is destroyed by:
    1. Aliens,
    2. World War (Nuclear, Biological, etc.) ,
    3. Natural Catastrophes of some kind (Supernova, Plague, Climate Change, Asteroid Impact, etc.),
    And I think they are projecting their desires onto other peoples of the world.
    Since Islam is a simple religion with very little theology, I cannot answer your question “Does Shia Tradition hold as much theological…”.
    However, I can say that the Shia Traditions have an enormous impact on the religious life of the Shia Muslims – it is almost a different religion than the Sunni Islam.

  13. Cieran says:

    Fascinating thread here… why I visit this site every day. Thanks to all!
    One hopefully-relevant comment:
    On the topic of MAD, Richard Rhodes’ new book (Arsenals of Folly) is a masterpiece, well worth reading. Timely, accurate, and it lays to rest many of the unverified beliefs about the arms race, e.g., that it was somehow stabilizing in international relations. It also spells out the relation between the neocons and the promotion of MAD ideology.
    My only caveat is that I could not read Arsenals of Folly in one sitting, as the the stories told there are so intense that I simply had to take some reading sabbaticals to study other fare (which is how I ended up reading Colonel Lang’s wonderful book, so there was a silver lining to Rhodes’ dark mushroom clouds, thankfully)

  14. Babak Makkinejad says:

    David Habakkuk:
    From Mr. Brajech Mishra:
    “Personally, I believe that 8% to 9% growth of the economy is very good for us, but if we do not have the bomb, it (the growth of the economy) is not enough. If you want to play a major role in world affairs, that is the key.”
    The entire interview may be found @ http://www.rediff.com//news/2008/feb/27inter.htm

  15. I think there is something mighty peculiar about the social and cultural scene in the United States in which millions of people seem to crave fantasies in which the current world is destroyed by:
    1. Aliens,
    2. World War (Nuclear, Biological, etc.) ,
    3. Natural Catastrophes of some kind (Supernova, Plague, Climate Change, Asteroid Impact, etc.),

    An entire lifetime can be devoted to this topic.
    I do not know your background, Babak…where you are from, where you live now, etc. If any “foreigner” wants to really try to understand this country, they need to spend some time driving through every state very late at night listening to AM radio after visiting all the “normal” places. A dose of the “lunatic fringe” (as my buddy calls them) who inhabit the extreme ends of the dial will round out their experience.
    Then they will learn that it is just far too complex to figure out.
    BTW – I would never trade our lunatic fringe for more homogeneousness. Never. Ever.

  16. David Habakkuk says:

    Babak Makkinejad,
    Certainly Brajesh Mishra says this. But he produces no argument whatsoever in support of his contention.
    I am also not clear as to what is being claimed. Is it being said that a nuclear capability can be used by India, either for war-fighting, ‘deterrence’, or ‘compellence’? If it is, in what ways is it being suggested that the capability can be used? If this is not what is being suggested, how does the nuclear capability contribute to the influence that India can exert in the world? Or is the underlying assumption that nuclear weapons have some kind of mystic aura which commands respect, even where they cannot be put to any kind of concrete use?
    Do British nuclear weapons in any way increase our influence in world affairs? I tend to agree with the view expressed by Michael MccGwire in his 2006 International Affairs article ‘Comfort blanket or weapon of war: what is Trident for?’
    ‘As for “political status”, [MccGwire writes] it was certainly important in the 1950s, when Britain’s nuclear capability ensured “a place at the table” of Soviet-American arms negotiations. We had, however, lost that place by the end of the 1960s, when the superpowers turned to negotiations on strategic systems. Nuclear weapons became the lace curtains of Britain’s political poverty.
    ‘By the 1980s, it was Germany that had Washington’s ear in Europe, and Japan had it in the Far East. Britain, meanwhile, had difficulty in persuading Washington to help over the Falklands and was deliberately kept in the dark when the United States decided to invade Grenada. London and Paris lost out to Bonn over German reunification in 1990, and again in 1993-4 over the decision to extend NATO. Britain and France were nuclear powers, Germany was not. In short, political status does not necessarily depend on a nuclear capability.’
    Of course, the Iranian case is different, in that one can easily see how Iranian strategists could see concrete value in a ‘deterrent’ capability. But until it is more clearly specified how a nuclear capability increases India’s influence in world affairs, I remain inclined to think that, as with Britain, this is more of a status symbol than anything else.
    A rather different Indian perspective, from the Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen, stresses the role of what he calls ‘moral resentment’ in the nuclear policies of India and Pakistan. Anger at the nuclear ‘double standard’ is, as Sen stresses, eminently understandable. And in my view, it is the height of folly for the existing nuclear powers to encourage it. But I tend to agree with Sen’s conclusion that
    ‘ … the nuclear adventures of India and Pakistan cannot be justified on the ground of the unjustness of the world order, since the people whose lives are made insecure as a result of these adventures are primarily the residents of the subcontinent themselves. Resenting the obtuseness of others is not a good ground for shooting oneself in the foot.’
    See http://www.pugwash.org/reports/pac/pac256/amartya.htm.

  17. Babak Makkinejad says:

    David Habakkuk:
    Thank you for your comments.
    Mr. Mishra is a former Indian National Security Advisor and thus his views must be shared by many among the strategic thinkers in India.
    He seems to be suggesting that economic growth is not germane to strategic weight; that what is needed is nuclear weapons and the ability to field them. And his comments will be studied by NAM states and will influence their policies.
    Going back to European history; Russia has never been a great economic power but remains a great power nonetheless.
    I disagree with Mr. Sen; India desired parity with China and in turn Pakistan with India. This is the same MAD logic with the exception that the decision to launch has to be made in tens of seconds and not in minutes as is the case between US and Russia.
    I agree with you that within the NATO Alliance, UK and French nuclear forces are irrelevant. On the other hand, the termination of the discussion of dismantling of UK’s nuclear weapons and the renewal of the capability makes sense only if US is to withdraw her nuclear umbrella from Europe.
    This is not about Iran. NAM states are concerned about nuclear proliferation as well as attempts at re-interpreting NPT to take away sovereign rights from sovereign states. The normal way to take rights away from sovereign states is to go to war with them. If you cannot, then I suggest adhering to NPT and begin the process of dismantling of the strategic nuclear weapons held by US, Russia, China, France, UK, Israel, India, and Pakistan – in my opinion.

  18. Andy says:

    I think the Indian nuclear test that precipitated the tit-for-tat testing with Pakistan was ultimately about prestige and not influence. Perhaps nuclear weapons only give India marginally more influence, but they do, I think, increase self-image. Looking back on some of the BJP rhetoric prior to the tests, it seems that national self-image was as much a justification as national defense or international influence.
    There are many problems with the NPT and one of them is definitional. In short, the NPT guarantees the right to “peaceful” nuclear technology but the problem is that not everyone agrees on what is a “peaceful” technology. With dual-use technology like enrichment whether that technology is “peaceful” under the NPT really comes down to intent which is never an easy thing to judge much less prove. Enrichment is particularly problematic because the capability to produce nuclear material for weapons is the single greatest technical hurdle to making them.
    Iran’s argument, shared by many in the NAM, is essentially that such dual-use technologies are inherently peaceful. If that’s the case then the NPT is greatly weakened because so much of the technology needed for weapons development is dual use.
    Remember that India’s “smiling buddha” test was not a “weapon” but a “peaceful” nuclear device.
    As for the NWS strategic forces, they have been coming down and the number of warheads and delivery platforms is greatly reduced from when the NPT was created. However, my personal opinion is that total disarmament is a fantasy since verification of any disarmament treaty is virtually impossible. No one can know for sure whether adversaries, particularly the US, Russia, UK, China and France, do not have hidden weapons stored somewhere.
    For a disarmament treaty to be at all effective, delivery platforms would have to addressed as well, primarily ballistic missiles, which would have to be controlled and limited worldwide, but that’s another topic.
    So the NPT has a lot of problems. What we really need is a new treaty to replace it, but I fear that this is an impossibility at this point.

  19. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your comments.
    My main point was that economic development and prosperity are not consideration when “you want to play a major role in world affairs”; we heard that from the Horse’s Mouth (through Mr. Mishra).
    I agree with you that a replacement of NPT is not going to be possible.
    I also agree with you that both the weapons and their delivery platform must be subject to the arms control treaties.
    I do not believe that the negotiation of such an (arms control) treaty is impossible: the SALT I & II had mechanisms for the creation of an arbitration panel in case one side accused the other side of cheating. And Ronald Reagan offered basically the same thing to Mr. Gorbachev in Helsinki in 1986; is it not possible to resume there?
    I think NAM will walk out of NPT if the Fuel Cycle and Reprocessing are denied to NPT members.
    The arguments of NAM is that the article IV of NPT guarantees the right to Fuel Cycle and Reprocessing as a Sovereign Right. They are not claiming that these activities are inherently peaceful.
    At any rate, almost any area of science and technology is dual-use; in my opinion.

  20. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Cold War Zoomie:
    I never ever claimed to understand Americans or any other people.
    But I find it curious that only US seems to have these many titles that deal with the end of the world – both in film and in speculative literature.
    In French, I can recall only two titles: one written by Jules Verne sometime in late 19-th Century having to do with a global sinking of the continents with a handful of survivors and another by Robert Merle on the aftermath of a global thermonuclear war.
    US also is the only country in which upwards of 500,000 people claim to have been abducted by the aliens.
    I further observe here that US is the only culture that I am aware of in which Death does not exist in the public space. Just go to Mexico and you will see that Death is visible in public.
    What does it all mean? I am not certain but nothing morally or psychologically good – I am sure.

  21. Andy says:

    Thanks for your response!
    Allow me a quick clarification:

    I do not believe that the negotiation of such an (arms control) treaty is impossible

    I certainly believe in and support further arms-control treaties – particularly global ones. What I think is impossible because of verification difficulties (among others) is the elimination of nuclear weapons altogether. The only way it might be possible is to also eliminate or tightly control all ballistic missiles and other platforms that allow quick delivery of weapons. But that is problematic as well since missile technology is also “peaceful.”
    As for enrichment and reprocessing, if they are recognized as a universal right under the NPT then that would be no less than a proliferation disaster.
    I would much prefer to see a universal right to reactor technology and fuel supplies through some kind of global consortium. Anyway, that’s probably a topic best for another thread.
    As for the end of the world, here’s a little something I found.

  22. Babak,
    The entire planet has a lunatic fringe. What makes ours so exceptional, and the envy of the world I might add, are their rights of free speech and assembly, and their intense desire to exercise those rights, along with the financial savvy to broadcast worldwide.
    They also lurk in the shortwave bands, so you may enjoy their teachings wherever you live.
    I love them in a way – I love what they represent: freedom. They are a testament to our freedoms. They can think and say whatever they want. They can broadcast it to the world if they have the desire, ambition and financial know-how to do so. They have the incredible fortitude to continue plugging away against the tide of conventional beliefs. They are willing and sometimes happy to be shunned.
    I’m not joking – although this may be a little tongue in cheek. During all my years living overseas, seeing and hearing our lunatic fringe upon return always made me really, really feel at home (now there’s an opening big enough to drive a truck through – but everyone’s too nice around here!). Because only here can they thrive with their Constitutional rights and access to capital.
    On a one-to-one comparison, I don’t think anyone can compete with the Brits for the sheer quality of lunatics. And they have a strange breed of Sane Lunatics (Monster Raving Loony Party). But we make up for it in volume, reach and intensity.
    Obviously, I’ve slid down a tangent light years away from the original topic. Time to stop.

  23. David Habakkuk says:

    Babak Makkinejad, Andy
    I think the question of whether the abolition of nuclear weapons is or is not impossible is an extremely difficult one. The verification issues need a much more thorough discussion than I have time to give them now.
    However, the issues are not purely technical. They are partly matters of political will, and political will is a function of the view which those involved take of the alternative to a nuclear-free world. The figure I quoted, Michael MccGwire, is a leading British advocate of a nuclear-free world — as well as being a name to conjure with in post-war British intelligence. He argues, cogently in my view, that the likely alternative to a nuclear-free world is widespread nuclear proliferation; that this will give rise to multipolar strategic arms races; and that these will be unstable, and the weapons will eventually be used. To which one can add what seems to me something close to racing certainty that the weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists.
    Among a number of useful articles by him in the Chatham House journal International Affairs, I would signal out his January 2005 article ‘The rise and fall of the NPT’, and the Appendix on Nuclear Deterrence published alongside his July 2006 paper ‘Comfort blanket or weapon of war: what is Trident for?’ The same issue also has a useful appendix by the former SAC commander General Lee Butler, entitled ‘At the end of the journey: the risks of Cold War thinking in a new era’.
    Is there a half way house between abolition and extensive proliferation? My scepticism was certainly not quelled by the recent report on Renewing Transatlantic Partnership published by the CSIS and the Noaber Foundation. The defence of strategies of first-use in that document has excited media comment, but I think a more fundamental point is made by the British analyst Paul Rogers:
    ‘The entire report is written from the standpoint of “the common transatlantic sphere of interest’, and develops the view that only a ‘super-NATO’ can guarantee security for its members and order in the wider world. The key assumption underlying this approach deserves to be brought out. This is that the north Atlantic is a fundamentally civilised community that is under threat from the forces of disorder — by implication, the barbarians at the gate.
    ‘This notion of an essentially benign order is at the core of the western security paradigm: ‘we’ embody liberal democracy rooted in a free market, which together represent the current apogee of world civilisation. In code, Towards a Grand Strategy … implies that a ‘new Atlantic century’ is required to rescue the ‘new American century’ from its recent problems.’
    ‘From within the confines of the institution and political world that shapes and informs the document, it can appear convincing. From a global perspective, however, it simply will not do. An alert listener might even be able to hear an echo from graduates of the John McEnroe school of international relations: ‘you cannot be serious!’
    (See http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/global_security/the_new_atlantic_century.)
    One can argue about the objective merits of this self-image: and I think it is clear that Babak Makkinejad, Andy and myself would take very different views. In relation to preventing proliferation, however, the objective truth is of secondary importance. The crucial point is that there is no prospect whatsoever of persuading people to regard the double standard as legitimate, on the basis of the argument that the North Atlantic community have a monopoly of civilisation, and the rest of the world are barbarians at the gates. Not only is such an argument unpersuasive — it causes an intense resentment which is liable to act as a motor for proliferation.
    As there is no hope of securing the acceptance of the double-standard as legitimate, the question becomes whether it can be sustained by force — which means preventive war. But the first attempt at non-proliferation by preventive war, the invasion of Iraq, has turned into a strategic disaster. Moreover, it has done enormous damage to the credibility of the claim that the United States and Britain represent any kind of superior civilisation. And a preventive war against Iran, I fear, could turn into a far worse disaster.
    What compounds the problem, in my view, is that many of the supposed lessons of Cold War experience about the likely role of the nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War world are highly questionable. I say this as someone who started out as accepting the wisdom of MAD without question. All the evidence, I now think, suggests both that nuclear weapons were not necessary to keeping the peace in the Cold War – and that the risks of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation were enormously greater than was generally appreciated: not least by me!

  24. Cieran says:

    Here’s a suggestion towards a better understanding of this:
    I think there is something mighty peculiar about the social and cultural scene in the United States in which millions of people seem to crave fantasies in which the current world is destroyed…
    It’s not all that peculiar, as this kind of thing is as American as baseball or apple pie. Perhaps the most important characteristic of American culture is an incredible sense of exceptionalism, the notion that we are the chosen people and that whatever we do, it’s simply better and more “special”, merely because we’re the ones doing it.
    It’s why genocide against Native Americans was morally permissible — they were heathens who were occupying our promised land, so they had to go, with no moral qualms to concern us. We were special, they were not…
    This entitled sense of exceptionalism is a big part of why this nation has a special relationship with Israel — scratch the surface of a Christian Zionist and you’ll find a set of beliefs that amount to not much more than “Israel and America are God’s chosen peoples, with the former his past choice, and the latter his present and future”.
    Most Americans are deathly afraid of being ordinary, so we attach ourselves to belief systems that reinforce our prejudices about our being an exceptional people. That’s a big part of why Darby’s dispensationalist claptrap (which Professor Kiracofe has so well explained on this site) caught fire in America — because it informs us that the very bible we trust implicitly tells us that we are so incredibly special that we will be the ones to witness the second coming, with front-row seats, too!
    What’s not to like about that?
    Of course, this leads to all kinds of problems for those Americans who have any semblance of reasoning ability, e.g., one of the most fundamental motivating principles our founding fathers embedded in the Constitution is that nobody is special, and that no religion can be given special status by the state. So we better fix that!
    And it’s equally obvious from current events that we Americans are merely human, not altogether different from the Palestinians who are getting murdered today by our oh-so-very-special U.S. weapons, or from the Persians we might want to start killing next.
    We Americans do have our unique skills, but simply being exceptional without earning the sobriquet is definitely not one of them. But that’s not what we want to hear, so we invent scenarios to distract us from the plain truth right in front of our eyes, including the various disaster eschatologies you mentioned.

  25. Cieran says:

    David Habakkuk:
    Thank you for your well-considered thoughts on proliferation of nuclear weapons. I am current reading Jonathan Schell’s recent “The Seventh Decade”, which does an excellent great job of documenting (and validating) the political concerns you write of here.
    There is no question that there are thorny technical issues involved in developing nuclear weapons programs. There is also no question that these programs live in a larger political context, and that in this political sphere, events are not going well for the world’s peoples. The human race cannot long afford to ignore this problem.

  26. Babak Makkinejad says:

    David Habakkuk:
    Thank you for your comments. I would like to amplify some of your points.
    I think that civilization is a machine, made by human beings, in order to cater to the needs of human beings from before they are born until after they die. And like all human artifacts, it is subject to the inevitable decay and decline governed by the inherent tendency in the Universe for the decrease in order and increase in disorder; i.e. the Second Law of Thermodynamics & increase of entropy. Civilization, in my opinion, as a machine, cannot serve as a sound foundation for a moral order.
    I think that the Western Civilization, with the United States being the highest exponent of that Civilization, is the dominant civilization on Earth. Moreover, if you were a (Western) European travelling in Latin America, Africa, and Asia anytime during the last 300 years you would come back home convinced of the superiority of your own civilization and filled with contempt for the others – and you would be quite justified- in my opinion- in feeling smug about that. In that sense, indeed the barbarians are at the gates and just like Rome & the Sassanid Iran they are invading the Empire. In US this may be characterized by the influx of the Spanish-Speaking Catholics from the South and in Europe by the influx of assorted Slavic Christians from the East and Arab Muslims from the South.
    What I have found disturbing about Western people is that something close to half of them believe themselves to be morally superior to others (non-Western people). This is very plain to non-Western people and they immediately pick on that. Now, a position of technical superiority in building and maintaining a superior civilization does not automatically imply moral and ethical superiority (note how the Rabbis rejected Rome 2000 years ago). It is this smug sense of ethical superiority that I personally find grating and which will be resisted to Eternity by non-Western people.
    I think that the historical moment for a world dominated by the “Common Trans-Atlantic Sphere of Influence” is passed; it vanished with WWI (and WWII destroyed its remnants.) I think also that civilizations are not historical actors; states are. Therefore one has to concentrate on the policies that are formulated at the state level. Since EU does not have a state structure, I fail to see it being able to play an effective role in the intercourse among states and thus one has to look to the behavior of individual states.
    UK has determined that a credible survivable nuclear force is essential to her security. The statement of Lady Thatcher regarding nuclear weapons having kept the peace in Europe was never repudiated by her party or the opposition party. France is maintaining her nuclear weapons. The Indian national security advisor implies that to be a player in the international arena one has to have the ability to annihilate tens of millions of civilians. Israel develops and maintains her nuclear weapons against defenseless states surrounding her. Thus, I am led to believe that a world of proliferation is the most likely outcome if the current trends continue.
    I do not think that the lessons of the Cold War are necessarily applicable to the rest of the World or understood for that matter. NATO and WARSAW pact consisted of highly industrialized and integrated states that could not survive and continue to function after a nuclear war- in my opinion. While it is conceivable that some hamlet in Russia or in US would survive a nuclear war the same could not be said about any place in Europe, Japan, or Korea. So these two alliances, in my view, had very little incentive to initiate a war. The same does not obtain for China and India for example. The diffuse and highly rural composition of these two states’ population makes it probable that their states and polities can continue to function after a nuclear war. I think therefore that nuclear weapons will be used in the future and once they are used the belligerents may find them not as useful as they thought.

  27. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your enlightening comments.
    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that democracy and its attendant cult of egalitarianism has caused Americans to seek a path out of ordinariness through the notions of Americans as the Chosen People and America as the City on the Hill, the New Jerusalem, etc.
    This must be a relatively new phenomenon in American history, judging by the date of the publication of Jack London’s “The Scarlet Plague” in 1912. [Coincidently, that was smack in the middle of the massive immigration into US which started in 1870s.]
    I find this disturbing since the path out of ordinariness seems to require the death of the millions of other human beings (an splendid manifestation of the Fall of Man and the Love & Hate relationship of human beings with other members of their species).
    There is also this: Carl Gustav Jung once observed that while he did not see WWI coming, he was certain of another war (WWII) since he noticed how Germans were possessed by Wotan. Are we speaking of some sort of possession here with analogous consequences?

  28. Cieran says:

    Good questions! As far as your suggestion of “possession”, that might indeed be the operative phrase. And I would agree with your catalog of examples of American exceptionalist thought (though I don’t know if these are due to the causes you suggest).
    But I would not say that exceptionalism is a new American phenomenon, only that our means of expressing this principle has changed with time. Frederick Jackson Turner’s work certainly informs this view, and much of the dark side of current American culture can be seen in his prescient writings.
    I actually do believe that America is an exceptional place. There is something truly singular about this country (my personal belief is that what is unique and valuable arises primarily from the broad diversity of our population and the universality of the governing principles developed by our founding fathers, but that’s just my opinion).
    One of the reasons I so enjoyed reading Senator Webb’s “Born Fighting” was that it developed a compelling framework for how Scots-Irish culture helped create a political fabric in the earliest days of this nation, one that facilitated exceptional thoughts and deeds, so that some of our beliefs in exceptionalism are indeed well-earned.
    But the notion of exporting the principles that we believe make us great, with said exports being sold to the world at the point of a sword, is a fundamentally un-American act. Unbridled imperialism is a relatively recent development in American culture, and since our nation is arguably the poster child for the rejection of colonial principles, we certainly ought not be caught practicing those imperial principles.
    And to the extent we do practice them, we are not an exceptional nation.

  29. Oh boy, I just can’t stop picking this scab and am breaking my promise.
    Last I checked, no one’s running on an “Apocalypse for the People” platform right now.
    Yes, we Americans definitely have a sense of exception. Like every other country on the planet. During our own travels, how many of us have met *anyone* who says “gee, my people suck and you Americans are the greatest thing since sliced bread! I want to be just like you!” By and large, people are proud of their clan which often means looking down on someone else.
    Yes, we have tons of apocalyptic nutjobs screaming from the rooftops. (I also told myself I would stop categorizing religious groups – oh well.) And the GOP recognized a pool of motivated voters when they saw it. Let’s be realistic, though. If there ever was a time for these groups to gain control of our foreign policy, it was the last few years with Bush and the GOP. It has been bad, but not apocalyptic – and I do not want to, in any way, downplay the destruction Bush and his bozos have wrought. There’s a reason we haven’t unleashed nuclear weapons in the ME: the real movers and shakers in the GOP aren’t listening to those Apocalyptic lunatics. Oh, they want their votes all right, just not their advice.
    I’m not convinced that Mr. Baram is wrong in his analysis. The big difference is Mr. Sadr has a well-armed and willing militia while our lunatic fringe has broadcasting licenses, websites, and printing presses. He’s ready to go whereas ours will be even more marginalized once Americans understand the agenda.
    You think it’s bad now? I remember when this guy, JB Stoner, was running for office. He was a member of a different yet related fringe – one that actually had a lot of political power at one time but had slowly been marginalized. I predict the same path for the current crop.
    Do you remember JB Stoner ads on Channel 17 (Atlanta) back in the 1970s where a picture of his mug in front of the Stars & Bars would pop up and he would yell the most outrageous stuff like “Vote Right – Vote White: JB Stoner”? (That’s the tame stuff, folks.)

  30. David Habakkuk says:

    Babak Makkinejad, Cieran,
    A remark by David Johnson, who edits the Johnson’s Russia List, an indispensable source of information on Russia for those without knowledge of the language, provoked a response from Jack Matlock, the last U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, which I think bears on this discussion. The key line refers to nuclear weapons, and the need ‘to stop acting as if they are sources of power.’ But the exchange as a whole is interesting.
    Johnson concluded his comment by saying:
    ‘If there are any open minded people left JRL is for you. Those who already have a “mission” vis-a-vis Russia will find useful ammunition in JRL but they won’t really be making the best use of it.’
    Ambassador Matlock responded:
    ‘Dear David,
    ‘Your comment is right on, and the Washington Post editorial (like several earlier ones) is outrageous. There are many things happening in Russia that are not in Russia’s interest in the long run. There have been quite a few things happening in the U.S., and actions by the U.S., that are not in our interest. We have to stop sniping at each other and concentrate on our mutual interests, the most important of which is to continue the course set by Reagan, Gorbachev, and Bush the 41st to continue reduction of nuclear weapons and to stop acting as if they are sources of power. We will not constrain proliferation if we continue our present policies that can only give us another dangerous and costly arms race.
    ‘If most Russians are more comfortable with a more authoritarian government at home than Americans would be, that is their business. If Russia uses its energy resources as instruments of national power, it is doing only what any country would do–and which the U.S. traditionally has done. A rational U.S. would act promptly to decrease dependence on imported oil and thus reduce the leverage countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia have on world markets. (My guess is that much more money going to Saudi Arabia is being used to finance radical Islam, than the money going to Russia.)
    ‘In short, it is time to tone down the rhetoric and get back to basics. We contributed greatly to the surge of nationalism in Russia today by our policies in the 1990s, and particularly by the unilateral course the current Bush administration has taken. This doesn’t make us responsible for Putin’s unfortunate actions, but our policies certainly harmed the democratic forces in Russia and contributed to the current mindset in Russia.’

  31. David Habakkuk says:

    Babak Makkinejad, Andy
    The blog has obviously moved on to new topics.
    But there is one important element in the argument about nuclear weapons and proliferation which I should have mentioned — the embracing of the abolitionist agenda by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn.
    (See the WSJ article of January 4, 2007, at http://www.fcnl.org/issues/item_print.php?item_id=2252&issue_id=54,
    and their follow up of January 15, 2008, available at http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB120036422673589947.html.)
    Another interesting conversion, which has attracted less notice than it deserved, was that of the late Paul Nitze. It was Nitze who, in NSC 68 repudiated the attempted by George Kennan to revive the agenda for the international control of atomic energy which had been abandoned following the failure of the Baruch Plan in 1946.
    His coming round to Kennan’s old agenda was signalled in a 1999 article entitled ‘A Threat Mostly to Ourselves’, available at http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/nwc/news/e19991028ourselves.htm.
    An interesting article on relationship of Kennan and Nitze, entitled ‘Worthy Opponents’, was published in the Boston Globe in April 2005 by Nicholas Thompson.
    (See http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/04/03/worthy_opponents?pg=full.)
    Actually, I am not convinced Thompson understands either Kennan’s position or that of his grandfather correctly. An important and neglected point is that Nitze actually did his best to accommodate in NSC 68 the moral and prudential objections which Kennan raised against strategies of first-use. This was an important part of the background to the project for massive conventional rearmament which is central to NSC 68 — which in turn entailed the kind of threat inflation criticised by Bohlen, from which the whole neoconservative tradition of interpretation of Soviet military policy derives.
    Another important part of the background, which has come into focus in recent years, is that neither Nitze’s strategic concept or Kennan’s was simply defensive. There were complicated arguments in both the U.S. in Britain about the pro and cons of ‘political warfare’. As Richard Aldrich made clear in his 2001 study The Hidden Hand, the more radical British exponents of covert operations had very ambitious objectives indeed — to push the Stalinist system to self-destruct. His view is that Kennan’s strategic conception, although more sophisticated, was similar. Also relevant here are a number of recent American studies, notably Peter Grose’s Operation Rollback and Gregory Mitrovich’s Undermining the Kremlin. This last helps make possible a proper appreciation of Bohlen — a much better analyst, and worthier human being, than the overestimated Kennan.
    On another matter. Thanks to Andy for the Schmitt/Shulsky paper he sent me. After being very busy with other projects, I have got back to trying to make sense of the body of literature produced by the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence. I am still trying to locate the 1996 ‘Future of U.S. Intelligence Paper’. The simplest course seemed to be to email Roy Godson, and ask if he can intercede with me with the National Strategy Information Center people. If you know Professor Godson, I would be grateful if you could put in a word on my behalf!
    Meanwhile, the email I sent me included a short piece by me updating sections of my 2005 post on the Schmitt/Shulsky article on Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence. It occurred to me it might interest you — so I will send it.

  32. More news about Our Man from Najaf:
    BBC Report
    He wants to move up the religious ladder.
    Good thing we’re there fighting his battles for him so he can accumulate more power before we leave.

  33. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Cold War Zoomie:
    He has a long way to go to get to the rank of ayatollah. Let us see if he even makes it to the rank of Hojjat al Islam over the next few years.

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