my splicetoday column expands on observations about fort lauderdale and the political implications of panic.
The Senate Armed Services Committeee hearing, now in progress, is chilling. I am sticking with the dire predictions I made on November 28. Clapper basically just said this was an act of war. But is it a Pearl Harbor or a Gulf of Tonkin? Remember the Maine!
Now, I have grown ever-more confused about whom to believe as the thing has gone on, which might be intended by everyone. The fog machines are pumping. If you simply believe 'the US intelligence community," you are a fool. If you switched on that last week, I don't even...As to being deeply offended that anyone might take what Julian Assange says seriously, I note that he is in a position actually to know, which has got to have some bearing on his credibility, no? On the third hand, the trackback to Russian intelligence, perhaps originating in a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, has a certain plausibility, I feel. I am having trouble generating equally coherent accounts about who did the hacking and why the releases unfolded the way they did.
Anyway, I think things might be even worse than we think they are, and that we may soon feel the destruction. The Republican party is really going to be riven right here, if that's any comfort to you.
every time trump says something apparently outrageous, or risks his candidacy again today, i've found that people will want to read it as a slick intentional strategy (or they want to read each one like that retrospectively, when it turns out to have helped trump). i just want to point this out: no political strategist in america would suggest attacking the second bush administration, saying george w didn't keep us safe at all because 9.11, saying the iraq war was an insane blunder driven by lies, and so on, in the week leading up to the republican primary in south carolina. nobody. nada. zippo. nary a one. not a soul. add to that that he's already leading in the polls; by acclamation it's a time to say as little as possible and not make a mistake. what he's realized is that people are really really sick of political strategists.
i utterly appreciate trump's attack on george w. if it's just the sort of thing you've always been saying - he lied us into a disastrous war and then the economy collapsed - you should too. the theory is that george w will play great in sc because it's so military. i don't know where military people might be now, but when i interacted during the war with high-ranking military people (colonel and above; because of dickinson's [spotty] interaction with the u.s. army war college), they'd just shake their head, roll their eyes, and often tell you straightforwardly that (though they viewed their jobs as carrying out the orders of the commander-in-chief) this was the worst idea anyone ever had, and just the sort of crappy shit the intelligence community does all the time, etc. i don't know how well george w is going to play as trump reminds everyone of the problems. a lot of military people came home maimed from that thing, and at the very best it accomplished absolutely nothing. you'd think that would alienate precisely military-type folks. don't let a flag confuse you; anyone can fly a flag.
oh just for the hell of it, while we're on the bush family: let's say i have some high-end sources who served in the reagan administration. two of them, in the late '80s, had a theory about the insane iran-contra debacle. the good thinking where they exchanged weapons for iranian hostages and then used the proceeds to illegally fund the contras (the other main source being a flood of cocaine that was waved through, helping drive the crack epidemic): it was a george h.w. bush operation (reminder: bush had run the cia). that had never occurred to me before. they just didn't think reagan could in any way generate a plan like that, even if he more or less waved it on or pointedly pretended not to see anything. they seemed pretty damn certain, like it just obviously had that distinctive bush touch, and they had channels...
once more into the breach. one thing we are doing in the middle east is assembling a shia coalition against isis and more widely against sunni islam: here we are de facto allied with assad, russia, and iran. (pay attention to what we do and the actual effects of what we do, not to what we say. are we doing anything about assad? where does that put the turks in our coalition?) this is what we're doing when we're arming and training (and, er, commanding) the iraqi army in the field, with shia militias and iranian commanders. that's also why all these deals with iran are getting done. another thing we're doing is assembling a sunni coalition, supposedly against isis, and against shia islam. so, e.g., we're arming and re-arming the saudis in their effort to level yemen and remove all taint of iranian influence there by expunging all traces of life. we're arming both turkey and the kurds, etc. oh yes, also we're non-stop placating and arming israel. so let me ask you: what would you expect to be the result of all these policies?
we're going to look at american foreign policy of this period as a completely incoherent mess resulting in unbelievable disaster. that's certainly one thing that one might look for in a presidential candidate: some sort of coherent approach to this matter. the only constructive approach i could see to the situation is actually isoltionism with regard to it; i cannot picture a useful intervention. but almost anything is better than what we've got going.
i wish i understood more about what happened in cologne. why and how were these men in the train station; who were they really and what did they think they were doing? i'm not seeing any good explanations, at least in the english-speaking press, but of course you can't read everything. europe could really spin in a bad direction here.
we're in a patch where people are trying to kill as many people as possible, very frequently in very many places, in the name of many different ideologies, or because of many different pathologies: for any reason or none. the question begins to occur, whether people are engaging in mass killings because of their beliefs, or whether they're cultivating beliefs in order to justify engaging in slaughter. the pattern of behavior is similar, whether it's islamist radicalism, white suprematism, a disgruntled employee, a fundamentalist christian going after planned parenthood, a bullied student, a schizophrenic, or whatever it may be. perhaps people look for a way in, something to justify their radical break with the species. or at least, the causation - the interaction between beliefs or illnesses and actions - might be complicated, for while the motivations or causes for the killings are various, the patterns of behavior are relatively repetitive, stylized, salient. it is the act of mass killing and the technologies that make it possible or articulate its forms, rather than the reasons or psychology of the killers, that is characteristic of our time.
it may be that you informally suppose that human beings are social creatures, that there's nothing worse than isolation, and that pulling together for unity is the very essence of human goodness, where we should go or even are going in the slow victory of progress. but, on the other hand, 'the social' is dark, dark. other people all around you, at the office, on the strip, in trains and planes and automobiles, can be extremely difficult in a million ways: this is truer of the people close to you than others. really both are true: we feel the urge to unify, and our unifications are incredibly problematic and oppressive.
some people love a crowd. and some people feel profoundly claustrophobic in a crowd. some people are happy to agree with their friends; some people constantly feel constrained by the epistemic and a thousand other social constraints. this is the reality of us. from cradle to grave, people might nurture and assist you; they might break you down or oppress or destroy you pointedly, or they might spend your whole life pretending you don't exist at all. i do think a lot of these people have reached the point where they were negating the whole species, in all of us and in themselves, where they reached the (bent?) judgment that we, all of us, homo sapiens, are better off not existing than existing. whether we deserve to exist: i think that is an open question, myself. but once you become certain that we don't, you may have released yourself to attempt maximum destruction. (actually i think that the right response is a hearty yet despairing belly-laugh.) then you might be asking yourself: ok, where's an opportunity, or what's a justification, etc?
you know, i often approach the zeitgeist through pop music, but terrorism would do just as well. today's terrorists are so, as it were, today.
in paris, a female terrorist's last words before self-detonation, as the police closed in: 'he's not my boyfriend!' kaboom! how many times have teenage girls texted that in the last ten years? (a: 3,274,498,622,007; the fbi is interrogating all the senders)
the san bernadino folks went back and shot up the office party, like a sit-com in its season finale.
and then there is the monstrous san bernadino suspect enrique marquez.
he hates our sacred way of life!
the american people are anxious, jittery, trepidatious, agitated, twitchy, tremulant, unmanned, unstrung, shaken, quivering, quavering, quaking, prostrate, prostate, and whatnot. you can read it in our selfies and emoticons, our encryption and our assault rifles. 'who will calm a jittery public? who, who will keep us safe from enrique?,' asks the greatest nation this world or any other has ever seen, as it wets itself. one man. only one. or rather, at most one.
ted "the ooze" cruz
Mass Shootings and Original Sin
By Crispin Sartwell
Responses to mass shootings, in the media or around the television or water cooler, long ago became merely routinized. People try, for example, to feed the latest event - from whatever particular angle it comes - into their political processors, after which they produce the same sentences over and over, each time around. They seem to think it is terribly important to find the right single word: is it 'terrorism' or 'murder'?
This is one way that we try to grapple with apparent incomprehensibility, the excess, the extremity, the seemingly inhuman in the human body, the unsayable or unfaceable, the opacity to us of things apparently so very much like ourselves.
It's an understandable response, even a necessary one. It allows us to take something that might seem impossible or debilitating or even wrong to assimilate and gives us somewhere to put it, a way to set it aside in its particularity and embed it in general categories or principles which we can grasp and affirm and communicate. But it's also a way of falsifying the real event, of failing to face it and experience it. Well, sometimes we need our cowardice.
But perhaps before we turn on a dime and renew our commitment once again to more surveillance or fewer guns, before we lob the event effortlessly into its pigeon-hole, we should try to live for a moment in the incomprehensibility, in the explosion of the event itself. The incomprehensibility of what happened in San Bernadino, for example, is important. It's scary not to understand it, but it's even scarier to understand it.
To say that an event like that is incomprehensible is, among other things, to disavow it, to say 'I would never do that.' Nonetheless, even if it seems strategic, I myself feel this incomprehensibility; I rarely write about mass shootings anymore because I don't know what to say. We need distance from the perpetrators to assure ourselves and one another that we are not just about to tip suddenly into violence directed randomly at the people around us.
In lieu of an explanation, then, an observation: we suck. I really do believe that in many dimensions human beings - and by this I mean myself as well as you - are irremediably flawed. Though I am an atheist, I feel the power of the doctrine of original sin: a seed of depravity or destruction inherent in all of us, inherent in myself.
When Christians such as Augustine or Jonathan Edwards asserted the doctrine of original sin, they had to grapple with the mystery of why a good God would create fundamentally depraved creatures or suffer them to exist. This is another way of saying that our hearts are incomprehensible to ourselves. We don't even know what we ourselves might do. And, in agreement with Augustine and Edwards, I don't think a treatment for this condition can come from pretending to be exempt from it, or pretending that we can leave it behind through policies or progress.
A treatment for our inherent evil could only begin by really knowing this about ourselves, knowing that we ourselves are irremediably flawed, that we ourselves are the sorts of things that are capable of killing, for almost any reason or for no reason at all.
Now, to produce a secular version of original sin, we'd have to generate some sort of naturalistic explanation. Perhaps it's a random mutation gone horribly awry. Evolution has produced, for examples, creatures with allergies and without eyes in the back of their heads. It's compatible with a lot of what we might tend to think of as mistakes. At any rate, it is pointedly indifferent to our moral aspirations for ourselves.
Counter-productive or gratuitous violence and rage varies historically in its objects and its forms. It might be a giant bureaucracy organized for genocide or a cult of human sacrifice or an outbreak of mass shootings, but as long as there have been human beings, we have been like that.
Anyway, that's no explanation, more of a feeling. But what I do want to say is: this is what we really are.
Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. His latest book is How to Escape, a collection of essays.
[piece i couldn't sell]
apparently, the american people are feeling profoundly scared. we have only one question as the infestation of pollsters indicates an oncoming presidential election: who will keep me safe? oh man, maybe marco rubio can keep me safe! americans definitely are in a crisis, a crisis of confidence with regard to which roget, consulting his excellent thesaurus, might describe us as poltroonish, cowardly, cringing, quailing, weak-kneed, craven, invertebrate, milksop, lily-livered, pluckless, spineless, gritless, spiritless, and base. those are all polling well.
trump really is something else. i saw him do the better part of an hour on morning joe this morning. he destroyed the panel of joe and mika, mark halperin and whatshername the bush flack. they were practically choking on their rage: scarborough made a point to cut him off and go to break in a completely gratuitous grandstand. but trump was actually reasonably genial and responsive. he will sit there and take any question, over and over. when people are hostile, he just repeats his poll numbers and seems unconcerned. he's actually remarkably undefensive. if that's a fascist demagogue, it's a new variety. really it's republicans who are freaking out worse than anyone: where is he taking us? (chris cuomo did better on cnn.)
condemning trump this morning is just redundant; everyone is doing it. but yes, we are at some sort of crossroads: quite a scary moment. trump and isis operating in yinyang could really bring the nightmare.
i think the republican field might now consolidate suddenly; i bet there's a round-robin of calls with preibus etc this morning. if it doesn't, it's just egos in a pissing match. i'd say kasich, bush, graham etc better collapse into rubio. christie is plausible, at this security-type moment, but he might be too damaged.
the response to mass shootings long ago became routinized, mechanical; with apparently renewed passion, the nytimes calls for sensible gun laws, if you can imagine that. you feed it from whatever angle into your political machine. this is one of many ways to try to grapple with the apparent incomprehensibility, the excess, the extremity, the inhuman howling from within the human.
i do think the 'incomprehensibility' is important; it's scary not to understand it, but it's even scarier to understand it. to say it's incomprehensible is to say, among other things, 'i would never do that.' and yet i too feel the incomprehensibility; i don't usually write about mass shootings anymore because i don't know what to say.
nevertheless, an observation: we suck. i really do believe that in many dimensions human beings - and by this i mean myself as well as you - are irremediably flawed. i feel the power in the doctrine of original sin, and the mystery of why a good god would create fundamentally depraved creatures or suffer them to exist is another way of saying that our hearts are incomprehensible to ourselves. we don't even know what we ourselves might do.
you know, i'd owe a naturalistic exploration, though it'd be half-assed. but evolution produced, for examples, creatures with allergies or like without eyes in the back of our heads. it's compatible with a lot of what might be thought of as mistakes. anyway, the historical form of demented or wholly counter-productive or gratuitous violence and rage varies in its objects, its forms. it might be a giant bureaucracy organized for genocide or a cult of human sacrifice or take-a-ride-in-the-suv-and-shoot-up-the-holiday-party. we ain't gettin no better, putting it mildly.
anyway, that's no explanation. more of a feeling. but what i do want to say is: this is us.
jeb bush's solution is that we need to raise "a sunni coalition", to go in and actually wipe isis off the map. that is the mccain-graham line too, and a mumbly version of it comes from obama. so, first question: who is in this coalition? the sunnis of anbar province? that's hilarious. the government of iraq? oops not sunnis, which is why there'll be no iraqi sunni army. the turks and saudis? no not at all. so, second: imagine that you raise some sort of sunni force, maybe involving jordan or egypt and kurds or something, with american and european air power. now this force confronts sunni islamists implicitly backed by turkey and the saudis on one hand (while terror explodes in their capitals), and a shia world (iran-iraq-assad-hezbollah) wielding or wielded by russian military forces. and you are proposing...what? a confrontation of these forces in northern syria? it's not only an unbelievable bloodbath with the possibility of spreading from africa to south asia to eastern europe, there is no plausible formula for victory.
listening to russian foreign minister lavrov's news conference on al-jazeera. now the rapid translation makes it a bit garbled. but he seems to have said that the russian plane was "shot down by american planes." that is, f-16s made in the usa. but then he asserted that any action taken with those planes had to be approved by washington. then he said that he just got a call from john kerry, who asked to meet as soon as possible. 'i told him that one more meeting about assad just wouldn't be useful.'
just to say the obvious, the nascent world war blossoms yet further today. turkey's shoot-down of the russian jet exposes a number of the fissures. meanwhile, putin is visiting iran. there can be no alliance against isis now that includes russia, and yet russia and iran are all over the field now, from damascus and beirut to baghdad. turkey may appeal to nato for a response to russia, as france to isis. as that happens, putin quietly increases the pressure on ukraine, which everyone is going to regard as the least of our problems right now unless it goes terribly wrong. that also engages all of nato.
meanwhile, as the kurds expand their territory along the syria/turkey border, the turks increase their attacks on the kurds. they will not permit the emergence of a kurdish state, which again aligns them with isis. we're backing the kurds, sort of, which would align us against turkey, or...with russia and assad? then we're allied with turkey to support anti-assad=anti-russia groups in northwest syria. that might sort of be why they shot down the russian plane. say the iraqi army, if there is one, takes the field. then i guess it'll be iranians sweeping in...with us advisors and air support, greeting the russians mid-desert i guess.
can you imagine the diplomatic/security chatter within nato, including turkey, and across to the russians today? the communications of heads of state and their staffs must be just furious. or imagine what things are like in the situation rooms in cairo, riyadh, london, tehran, brussels, berlin, tel aviv, kiev.
in saudi arabia right now, they're freaking out about the russia/iran/iraq/assad/hezbollah shia configuration. they're gearing up to fund every mode of sunni resistance, to make the cost of the russian incursion astronomical, which we might spell t-e-r-r-o-r. everything depends today on putin's restraint, which is never a good thing to depend on; if he responds belligerently toward turkey, or has various allied forces do so right now or disproportionately, all bets are off. meanwhile obama meets with hollande, then with putin, all of whom, along with the turks and saudis, have air forces operating in overlapping theaters where anything can go wrong at any moment, and they are all escalating their involvement.
the idea that you could shut brussels down day after day is not that surprising, but it demonstrates that a few people can bring europe to its knees, can shut down major cities. their own extreme hysterical security response will require the eu to attack isis in syria; anything else will soon make europe impossible. i hope i rarely make this assessment: things are even worse than they appear.
i do think obama has been sort of pathetic, extremely vacillating, talking belligerently one minute, the opposite the next, more worried about republicans than about isis or the russians. or what he's really worried about in a pitiful way is domestic politics, so his strategy is to make no mistakes by doing little while constantly portraying the rosiest possible scenario. but, on the other hand, i also do not see a constructive way for the us to be more fully engaged right now: all we could possibly do is add to the madness. so i have no advice and i even think basically that sitting on his hands, obama's best thing, is better than any envisionable alternative. the drumbeat for war coming from republicans and even dems is going to ratchet up though. one domestic terrorist attack...
one lesson that we should draw from cases like this: power creates a field of distortion, an atmosphere full of falsity. power is a force that demands and creates falsity. that leads it into extreme practical blunders. and because power forges collectivities, fundamentally by coercion but by other means, the blunders and their disastrous results are widely shared.
the consistently falsely rosy picture that the obama admin has painted of the war against isis has been stupid and counter-productive. kerry thinks, or says, that here will be free and fair elections in syria within 18 months. partly, these people are trying to manipulate us to do or think things. but partly they're just living in the hallucinated world in which collectives swathe power.
as we banter about registering muslims, imposing religious tests on immigrants, and so on, i want hit us over the head with what i take to be a fundamental political/moral fact: we are the very same sort of people as the people who enacted the holocaust or the killing fields. those people were under the impression that they were doing something good and striking a blow for progress and civilization. whatever your political vision - especially right or left - what i want from you is a chastened sense of your own liableness to be wrong. a little bit of that might be enough to keep you from confidently imposing your nightmare on the world.
now that radical sunni islamism has a state, there is the potential for rival totalitarianisms to short-circuit all other political possibilities in a spiral of centralization. everyone is comfortable thinking about the world as a dichotomy, as in the fascist-communist squareoff of the 1930s, and in a way you're forced to take one intolerable side or the other. that's how people with seemingly decent values got sucked into being stalinists.
so, here we have people who are into decapitation and burning people alive or opening fire at a restaurant as against people who are attempting to put the whole world under surveillance, assassinate you with a drone strike, and arrange systematically the world economy into a hierarchy with themselves at the top.
the relief for me is that i'm not in charge on either side. i can afford to flip everyone the bird until the roundups actually begin.
i think one aspect of our nascent world conflict is a global totalitarian crackdown. so, this privacy/snowden thing: to whatever extent we ever floated the other way, total info awareness is back, attempting to monitor all the world's communications. think about that for a second. the portrayal of social media these days is interesting; a few years ago it was this liberatory force in the arab spring or the maidan, but now pundits and officials are in a moral panic about it: 'youth' are 'radicalized' 'by social media.' again the generality squashes all actual info. communication itself, social connections, become an amorphous threatening atmosphere or environment of wireless signals. if nothing else, people think someone should control it, because they don't really understand it, or no one can really comprehend it; it could always be a threat. jack up the hysteria enough and we will demand that our own communications be carefully monitored.
then, the anti-immigrant/refugee thing is oh so familiar, and i am telling you that there will be growing internment camps. france might do that right now, which might also require a permanent state of emergency/war. there is liable to be a wave of extreme militarist nationalism coinciding with the us presidential election and featuring an hysterical edge of bigotry, such as is emerging right now among republican governors. if there is one spectacular isis action in the us...
one thing that is particularly characteristic of contemporary discourse in many areas, including politics, is the transformation of the merest concepts, or even sheer general terms, into actors or forces or beings with causal effects in the material world. i am going to assert that in a wide range of cases, such an approach can explain absolutely nothing. this is also the language of advertising, for example. here's a pretty classic example:
how does optum help you out? it uses wellness to keep away illness. a medical breakthrough! like it was an aesthetic breakthrough when the beatles used grooviness to keep away suckiness. what can save us in our terrible predicament? innovation! that's why optum is an innovation company.
or here's richard cohen: our enemy isn't islam or immigration or something; it's 'intolerance': the very same force that caused catholics and protestants to war in the 17th century. it's like intolerance is a substance or entity with physical effects: cupid's nasty little twin. or it's a force, like gravity. unlike gravity, however, it operates intermittently and its mechanisms are not well understood at any level. what accounts for its sudden emergence, the way it suddenly takes over individual heads or drives movements or peoples and then fades as progress again takes hold? now that we say the enemy is intolerance and half-assedly trace the history of particular people and events here or there to their participation in intolerance - their manifestation of intolerance in physical reality - what do we understand that we did not before?
i'd say i've been resensitized to this problem by the works of bruno latour. but anyway, as soon as you focus on this, or try to spell out the ontological status of the abstraction so that it can have effects in the world, you see its emptiness and also its ubiquity. it's a general style of explanation, where we explain some specific event or object by its relation to or participation in an abstraction. we might call it contemporary platonism. i'm going to start collecting examples, for this is a dominant dimension of the nonsensical yipyap that is our public discourse.
it's hard not to do this: our languages suggest it especially when they permit converting adjectives into nouns. the germans have a fascist ideology. pretty soon, fascism is sweeping across the continent like a gas. then if you're kerry, the same gas is arising from the middle east: a chemical weapon, only with non-material chemicals. or: why the heroin epidemic? it's 'the economy.' why should we increase social welfare spending or something? 'progress', etc. in some cases it might be a relatively harmless shorthand. but in every case, we should immediately prick up our ears: ok, have i just formulated an explanation in any sense, or just posited a whole realm of dormitive virtues and fantastical beings? or: what might this be a shorthand for? if pressed, how might we give meaning in terms of specific phenomena to the abstractions we are tossing around? what do i understand by means of the abstraction that i could not understand without it, and is it distracting me from what is actually happening to specific things and people at specific places and times? a lot of these things just fall apart as soon as you press them at all.
kerry has doubled down on "a medieval and modern fascism, both at once." here, concepts are mating willy-nilly in the nether-world of platonic heaven, committing adulteries like the greek gods. how would someone reach such a point in their 'thinking'? well, you have a few categories in your head, a few periods, a few ideologies. then the new phenomenon has to be jammed into the existing taxonomy. someone like kerry is so inured to the idea that abstractions or concepts cause events in the world, that he works backwards from any given event to the concept that must cause it. but he has an extremely limited repertoire of concepts. he generates a god to explain the phenomenon, even if it is a bizarre chimera. then he feels that he has reached rest, that he understands something puzzling and can convey that understanding to us.
i remember when my son was 2, he had a vocab of fifty words or whatever. now, for whatever reason (he had some mild speech issues, perhaps), it narrowed down to two nouns: "dog" and "ball". everything was a dog or a ball: cars were dogs, whereas blankets were balls. his sister took to calling him 'dogball.' we finally figured out the principle: things that moved themselves were dogs, whereas things that had to be kicked or whatever to move were balls. but at least there are really dogs and balls and he was responding to actual aspects of the real world. still you're going to need a few more categories.
or like the bush admin was hypnotized by abstractions when they formed their iraq policy; they were fighting the war on terror and bringing freedom to the iraqi people. i think that the neo-cons were actually operating at that level of abstraction, and that it made them profoundly insensible to the particular events on the ground; i think these pseudo-explanations relying on non-entities often drive practical disasters.
eventually, the whole world looks like the playground for concepts, while particular things and events take on a flickering quality as themselves reflections of the abstractions, which are the real actors. then you'll be surprised when a particular bomb blows up your particular body.
also i'll take examples if you've got some.
jeb bush this morning: "this is a war for western civilization." then he said that we have to be extremely cautious letting in syrian refugees, except that we should immediately take all christians. this might be going extremely wrong. i don't think the kerry-technocrat frame that we face a war of now or the future against the medieval era is any better, and indeed it turns out to mean the same thing, more or less.
alright, meanwhile obama is meeting with putin. possibly the best-case scenario is everyone-against-isis: russia, the us, iran, assad, egypt, the kurds. and israel? but now notice the wildly different agendas of these groups, and the wildly different domestic political pressures they are under. whatever we yap, we have to have come off our insistence that assad be deposed in this process; everyone's priority has to be isis now.
but, however, notice the many wild cards; israel, turkey, and the saudis all have reasons to oppose a shia victory throughout the middle east, to say nothing of massive simultaneous invasion by nato and russia. isis has potentially regime-threatening insurgencies/civil wars going in afghanistan, egypt, libya, while a number of satellite battlefields could merge fully, such as yemen, where the saudis confront the iranians right now. all of north africa is in play, and across to pakistan.
if you do have nato or the us and the russians fighting on the ground, many things can go wrong, and if we are de facto allied there, i predict that russia will simultaneously put more military pressure on eastern europe; putin has his expansionist agenda that we cannot afford to feed too far. and yet we can't not, cause what are we or the eu going to do? they'll be dependent on russia in syria.
meanwhile, lord knows what happens now in the european 'refugee crisis.' that itself could turn violent, as hundreds of thousands wash up on borders as they close, and right-wing sentiment runs wild in europe. maybe you get some national front-type parties rising dramatically. three more paris-type actions and the roundups/camps begin. president rubio and defense secretary graham think it's going to take 500,000 troops and all the money in the world; the gao is already taking bids for the memorial on the mall.
once the thing is framed as a war for western civilization and of christians against muslims by both sides, and once the christian powers invade and start occupying, whole populations will endorse extremely violent resistance and the projection of terrorism into the west. then both sides will crank up the apocalyptic rhetoric more, and so on.
anyway, i'm not nostradamus, and i would take almost any way out, and there might be some. but man today this thing looks like an unfolding world-historical crisis a la the world wars.
kerry, lavrov, and a bunch of foreign ministers just reached an agreement in vienna on a 'political process for syria.' kerry described the agreement as an 'achievement' and said that there will be free and fair elections in syria within 18 months. i have no idea what these people are doing, or what world they are operating in.
watching the news last night had a certain cinematic quality; like the flashback that shows what they were watching just before the apocalypse. but i still think we might be getting a relatively slow but consistent rollout of ww3. the way europe is now embroiled is suddenly transformed; hollande says france is "at war" and is promising a hideous vengeance. well, that means throwing the french into the battlefield where already the russians, assad, iran, hezbollah, the kurds, turkey, the us, and the saudis are all active. i don't see the russian involvement as doing anything but escalating in the face of the plane. the knife attacks etc in israel should be connected up, and with more can pull israel into less covert involvement. egypt may well get into civil-war mode now, and since the plane bombing must themselves be planning an armed response to isis. i wonder how turkey is responding to the kurds taking sinjar, for a kurdish state is blooming along the border with turkey on one side and the islamic state on the other. this and the opposition to assad aligns the interests of turkey with the islamic state.
the islamic state really is a state now, with territory, borders, and so on. they have money, materiel, all sorts of resources, and i think can achieve spectacular terrorist attacks all over the world as well as defend themselves effectively. it's one thing to have a 'terrorist safe haven' in the caves of afghhanistan or rural somalia or mali or pakistan, quite another to have islamism as a belligerent nation in the middle of the middle east. i'm going to bet that they have intelligence services, an it department, document and munitions production, etc.
you are really going to see the rise of ultra-nationalist and anti-immigrant parties in europe now, and it could happen here too. you are going to see a rise in anti-immigrant or white suprematist etc violence. the relation of the french republic to its own muslim population just got even more dire and it's just as bad elsewhere. but these societies with millions of muslims could themselves get into low-level civil wars; the stance of france right now registers that. all of that might also give a goose to putin; if he had annexed eastern ukraine this morning no one would have noticed, and he can make common cause with parts of the electorate across europe, which is going to want a kick-the-terrorists' ass strongman. remember when i incinerated chechnya with thermobaric weapons?
there's no way of knowing where this is all going, but calming down any time soon is not one of the realistic scenarios. on the other hand, there are a good dozen scenarios where this thing just blazes from pakistan and xinjiang to libya to kiev to hungary to amsterdam with an ever-greater intensity. nor will we be sitting this one out.
john kerry on isis, or islamism: "we face a medieval and modern fascism, both at once." feel clearer now? man, it is amazing how people try to think about history, or time, or ideology. i'm trying to picture what is happening in kerry's head as he stirs up a formulation like that, or what process of thought something like that is a trace of. it's like trying to imagine what it would be like to be a bat. no, on the contrary, what we face now is a sci-fi falangism from the seventh millennium and a stone-age marxism, both at once.
well, let's retrace the steps. the first thing is that on the informal metaphysics of your average mediocre yalie, peoples and persons, all of whom exist contemporaneously, are to be understood as each located at different times: you've got stone-age people in the amazon jungle, natives lingering in africa, medieval talibans up in the hills, quaint brits from early in the twentieth century, white trash left over from the depression, and then super-progressive people from the future, like the extremely dead steve jobs. guess what? this conceptuality of time is insane, and invariably self-serving, and just a metaphysical colonialism, even or especially in its 'progressive' forms. perhaps the mediocre yalie has given up thinking that yalies are the peak of human evolution; now he just thinks he is the furthest along on a progressive timeline, that he's won the race to the future, though all the while time is grinding on all of us at just the same rate. there's nothing there but preening and incoherence. i heard tom ridge and several others this morning "the barbarians are at the gates. the barbarians are inside."
ok, so, anyway, people like kerry have been calling islamists medieval for decades now, and feeling like that explained something. it's only an insult. but then: they're all over social media! they have a shitload of c4! thus the 'modern and medieval both at once.' as to 'fascist'; oh man, that is just slapping an irrelevant insulting ideological label on someone. i do think that this degree of incomprehension leads to bad policy, as well as being a farrago of obvious jive. it cannot but represent a total and self-serving incomprehension of what you are dealing with; you understand them by fitting them into your a priori structure, and become insensible to actual information. and then the a priori structure is utterly confused, and you make terrible mistakes. the structure of thought is like a super-half-assed hegelianism or something. and yet teasing someone like kerry out of it would require erasing his brain and starting again.
it looks more or less like russia will fully engage in the ground war in syria, with troops, etc. no doubt they can quickly transform the balance on the ground.
i've been listening to lindsey graham on cnn. his view is that russians are assembling a regional force - assad's alawites, iran, hezbollah - and launching a ground war to prop up assad. in short, "russians and shiites". then he gives this: the russians are sort of doing what i thought we should do: form a regional force (in this case saudi arabia, jordan, kurds, turkey). he said the russians will destroy everything we've tried to do, rip up various cia programs. (that appears to be accurate).
so this raises the specter of shiite/sunni regional war (already well underway) now driven by one non-local, christiany superpower on each side, or images of world war 3 blossoming out of the middle east.
our policy has been insane, actually. we have fueled the sunni/shiite religious war by forcing a shiite/iranian regime on iraq, and we are de facto allied with the shiites of iran. and then we're trying to assemble a sunni force to take out isis, even as sunni regimes implicitly support and covertly fund isis. saudi arabia is running a savage bombing campaign in yemen with our materiel against iranian-backed rebels, etc. whatever obama says, we've essentially let assad proceed, hoping he'll take out isis; we've been 'coordinating' with assad, and with iran. and saudi arabia. and we have soaked the whole region in weaponry thoroughly and for a long time.
we even, i think, implicitly approved a russian intervention, until it started to become evident what shape it would take. we're arming and funding both or all sides, just as though we hope for maximum chaos and are intent on taking practical measures to achieve it.
i think this situation is something we fundamentally created or at a minimum made possible and set off, with policies of mind-boggling idiocy starting with the iraq invasion. the only hopeful thing i can think of is that we are too, um, chickenshit actually to commit ground troops, or actually to confront russia (on ukraine/crimea, all we did was yap, e.g.).
on the other hand we are very likely to have a republican president, and if it's anyone but paul, that pres is liable to be belligerent and intent on restoring american pride, superduperpower status, and so on. e.g. kasich in the last debate squarely portrayed a worldwide struggle between islam and 'jewish and christian values.' we're still not all that good at distinguishing between muslims. well, they might not be too swift at distinguishing among non-muslims.
you really could get a pretty direct spread into europe and europe is already engulfed by refugees and russian expansion. it is embroiled, and could easily become much more embroiled.
then there's israel. it wouldn't be shocking if they more or less approved of the conflict, or are taking measures to keep it going (we're doing the same, but our motives are not sensible; theirs would be watching their enemies destroy each other). i don't think we have a clear picture of what they're doing in syria. but i do know this: if there's a republican pres (again, other than rand paul), s/he will do whatever israel tells himmer to do. this is another way you might get a explosive expansion of an already explosive situation. why are republicans the servants of israel? wackily enough, because of a protestant christian interpretation of the apocalypse. plenty of islamists are throwing down the apocalypse too, oh and probably some jews are too. this may appear demented, and yet expecting armageddon seems a little less fantastic every day. a key factor in putin's regime is the revival of the russian orthodox church. quite the complex little religious situation.
then again, perhaps israel is lending substantial support to assad and the russian incursion. astonishingly, their interests align somewhat with iran's. then again, maybe they are also helping sisi and the saudi royal family against their islamists. the israelis would be trying to keep the armed conflict or isis from washing up right on their border. it's close. what happens if it gets closer?
and the situation is even more complex than that, because you have intra-religious conflicts, christian on christian (usa v russia), and intra-sunni civil wars in afghanistan, egypt, and libya.
republicans love to say that iran is the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism, but it's really sunnis who are reaching into the west with a constant dripdrip of terrorism. this is a way various countries including the usa, can get sucked in, or how the front comes to calgary and marseilles and adelaide and xinjiang and both birminghams. we've already pretended that we've been in a 'war on terror' for 14 years, and a spectacular attack (perhaps a couple of assassinations) would be one way we get sucked in fully to a real war.
so, if there's a world religious war, how does that comport with everyone's idea of what the shape of history looks like? remember last week, when it was obvious that we were all engaged together in a progress toward secularization, freedom, and so on? univocal, progressive, or teleological conceptions of history are simplistic, self-congratulatory, and false.
i do not understand what everyone from kerry to the military mouthpieces think they're accomplishing by pretending all day every day that everything is going fine against isis, even as they get their ass kicked again and again. truly, perhaps they are deluding themselves in order to enhance their self-esteem? or perhaps they have taken on board the profound postmodern insight that appearance is everything, that confidence wins the battle, and that the world outside their fluffy little heads is a story that they can win through re-narration. isis prefers munitions. or perhaps they think that acting like they live in a hallucination will win them public support. no, on the contrary, they ought to be painting a dire picture instead of waving off massive defeats as little setbacks. that really might martial some public support if they intend to continue at all. meanwhile, they are degrading and defeating themselves, as well as talking jive all day.
the strategy is entirely incomprehensible: they are sending in iran with air support to re-take ramadi. it's quite as though they are trying to touch off a sunni/shia war to engulf the whole region, which is what is actually happening. i would like to hear what the government of saudi arabia is saying about this, and it would hardly be surprising if the saudis are more or less supporting isis in various ways. they have to read this as part of iranian expansion through the whole region and they have to be working on stopping it. one would think that the saudis are pleased if aqap controls large swathes of yemen, e.g. meanwhile the us is blowing up iran with "war rhetoric" as they also try to negotiate a deal on nukes with them and use their "militias" as the shia ground force to conquer the sunni bits of iraq. there is nothing - really, nothing - in this scenario that could count as a victory. they are fucking themselves from all angles at once (sorry, i've been watching veep), and their strategy is to act like they're enjoying it.
now i realize that it is a difficult situation, presenting no obvious solution. but this is just insane. the goal appears to be total defeat by definition and maximizing total corpses. seriously, what counts as winning? iran de facto taking anbar and killing everyone? their actual strategy is only to yap in a positive mode. but even these people with their pollsters and communications experts are going to be broken, thoroughly and deservedly, by reality.
the american psychological association loves torture. the good thing about this is that they could not possibly have helped. i am aware that i might be slightly hyperbolic when i say these things: psychology hasn't come up with an interesting or original or plausible idea in 50 years. psychologists are the herdiest of intellectuals, opposed in principle to reflection, sensitive only to fashions and fads. their 'treatments' are ineffective, possibly because their diagnoses are half-assed nonsense. in principle, psychologists could be useful in controlling populations or normalizing the deviant or selling stuff: the yapyap has changed, but those are still the purposes. but really i wouldn't worry about that, because they are psychologists.
in iraq, the us is aligned with iran; it's all about arming up shia militias, which one could be forgiven for thinking was the purpose of the invasion, since that was its tangible and predictable and intentional result. on the other hand, in yemen, we're aligned with the saudis. i daresay the saudi strategy on the ground in yemen is to arm up al qaeda in the arabian peninsula and give them air support. that is, we are supporting both the iranian mullahs and al qaeda here and there while opposing them elsewhere as we mechanically condemn them both. (then there's assad v isis; we support each against the other. israel and egypt both need ever-more extreme weapons. we support and hate every side in libya, etc.) so i'd say this to the state department or the pentagon: if you can't come up with a strategy that isn't just arming your declared enemies ("the terrorists"), you should quit. obviously there's no way to win if you're on all sides at once, or if you strongly support everything you condemn, and so on. we're a very yappy nation, but not the thinkiest. if you described our strategy as trying to make sure that the whole region is consumed by the maximum possible total war as soon as possible, that would at least make our decisions 'rational'.