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We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]
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chautauqua haqqani daveed

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From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:
**

Amb. Haqqani:

None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..

**

If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

Daveed G-R:

In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.

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The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

— down to our own times.

Amb. Haqqani:

What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.

**

Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

Daveed G-R:

The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being rea – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.

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Amb. Haqqani:

The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.

**

Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

Daveed G-R:

Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

— and had the final, pointed word:

We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.

**

Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:

Elite Failure and Populist Trump It

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

GOP Front Runner, Donald J. Trump

A friend sent an essay by the prolific IR scholar, Professor Angelo Codevilla that had been posted at Powerline Blog.  It was good.

For the unfamiliar, Codevilla often writes on national security and intelligence matters and some readers may be familiar with his (with Paul Seabury) book,  War: Ends and Means ; but in recent years Codevilla has, like Walter Russell Mead and a number of other intellectuals, turned his attention to the shoddy performance, ethical deficiencies and arrogant demands of the new American “ruling class”, writing a biting critique of their “meritocratic regime”.

In his essay for Powerline, Codevilla turns his attention to the political phenomenon of the improbable GOP presidential front runner, billionaire and reality TV star, Donald Trump.  Unsurprisingly, Dr. Codevilla is not a huge fan of the bombastic Mr. Trump, but his analysis of why Trump has captured the moment so easily has some astute insights about the decaying state of our political system and the seething anger of the electorate:

Does Trump trump?

“In the land of the blind,” so goes the saying, “the one-eyed man is king.” Donald Trump leapt atop other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination when he acted on the primordial fact in American public life today, from which most of the others hide their eyes, namely: most Americans distrust, fear, are sick and tired of, the elected, appointed, and bureaucratic officials who rule over us, as well as their cronies in the corporate, media, and academic world. Trump’s attraction lies less in his words’ grace or even precision than in the extent to which Americans are searching for someone, anyone, to lead against this ruling class, that is making America less prosperous, less free, and more dangerous.

Trump’s rise reminds this class’s members that they sit atop a rumbling volcano of rejection. Republicans and Democrats hope to exorcise its explosion by telling the public that Trump’s remarks on immigration and on the character of fellow member John McCain (without bothering to try showing that he errs on substance), place him outside the boundaries of their polite society. Thus do they throw Br’er Rabbit into the proverbial briar patch. Now what? The continued rise in Trump’s poll numbers reminds all that Ross Perot – in an era that was far more tolerant of the Establishment than is ours – outdistanced both Bush 41 and Bill Clinton before self-destructing, just by speaking ill of both parties before he self destructed

Trump’s barest hints about what he opposes (never mind proposes) regarding just a few items on the public agenda have had such effect because they accord with what the public has already concluded about them. For example,Trump remarked, off the cuff, that “Mexico does not send us its best.” The public had long since decided that our ruling class’s handling of immigration (not just from Mexico) has done us harm. The ruling class – officials, corporations, etc.- booed with generalities but did not try to argue that they had improved America by their handling of immigration. The more they would argue that, the more they would lose. At least if someone more able than Trump were leading against them.

….The point here is simple: our ruling class has succeeded in ruling not by reason or persuasion, never mind integrity, but by occupying society’s commanding heights, by imposing itself and its ever-changing appetites on the rest of us. It has coopted or intimidated potential opponents by denying the legitimacy of opposition. Donald Trump, haplessness and clownishness notwithstanding, has shown how easily this regime may be threatened just by refusing to be intimidated

[Emphasis mine]

Read the rest here.

Codevilla is right. He may even be understating the nature of the problem, as remarkable as that may seem.

Our bipartisan ruling elite have, in the short space of fifteen years, managed to: lose two wars; collapse at least three states into permanent anarchy; turn Russia into an enemy again; suffer the greatest counterintelligence failures in history;  nearly melt down the entire global economy and vastly enrich themselves while presiding over the greatest loss of household wealth for ordinary Americans in history, save for the Great Depression. If that is not a level of incompetence that should disqualify them from public office forever, I’m not sure what would.

Despite this track record of utter failure and brazen venality, our elite have managed to remain firmly in the saddle. Why is this ? In a normal countries they typically have revolutions and coups over far less, but our leaders of both parties managed to cruise from disasters to debacles to win re-election, often by substantial margins.

One reason may be is that the elite, broadly speaking, have managed to restore a substantial degree of control over the information the general public consumes that they had briefly lost  in the early 2000’s and subsequently narrowed and shape the terms of “acceptable” political debate in American society more than ever before.

Once upon a time, the mass media ecology was relatively simple and politically reflected what historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. termed “the vital center” of Cold War liberalism.  The New York Times editorial page set the general line for informed opinion and most regional and local papers dutifully fell in line, with the Washington Post, TIME, Newsweek, LIFE and US News & World Report generally critiquing whatever debate the Times had begun in greater depth. The three networks ABC, NBC and CBS by contrast simplified and reinforced these narratives with the immediacy and power of television. The “Fairness Doctrine” effectively made the system an elite monopoly by freezing out dissenting opinions from the Left or Right from radio or television broadcast. Cold War liberalism was de facto defined as a politically neutral position not requiring “equal time”. It also represented shared values between most journalists and editors and the American leaders upon whom they reported.

This center began to lose its vitality when liberalism itself became divided over the Vietnam War between hawks and doves and support for various counterculture and cultural liberation movements; the media landscape began to shift and diversify after the Reagan administration terminated the fairness doctrine and the rise of cable news and talk radio. The era of wailing by the gatekeepers really commenced though with the rise of the blogosphere and the early days of social media which contributed to and coincided with the implosion of the newspaper publishing industry as ad revenue tanked. For a while, the internet meant that the elite lost control of the conversation, carefully constructed media scams were outed, scandals were discovered and online tsunamis of anger came down on the once high and mighty.

Elite control over discourse has been reestablished to a degree, not as a monopoly but as a loose hegemony based on the principles of Co-option, Coordination and Coercion.

The media elite are now fully integrated into the political and economic elite, intermarrying with them, sending their kids to the same prep schools, Presidents hiring spouses and siblings of network executives and political aides becoming faux journalists. Its as if James Reston’s brother or Walter Cronkite’s wife had gone to work for Richard Nixon and their kids to school with John F. Kennedy, Jr.  The journalists and editors covertly coordinate news campaigns with each other, politicians, the White House, parties and advocates of causes that they support and when this fails to persuade, the elite like to intimidate.  From abusing the powers of government to harass political opponents to whipping up tribal partisan mobs on social media to furiously abuse or dox some hapless private citizen, perhaps trying to ruin their livelihood for daring to express unwelcome of opinions on subjects the elite find distasteful.

And the list of proscribed beliefs and topics grows increasingly long. The following is a partial list of topics or views generally not supposed to be mentioned by candidates, much less debated by the national standards of American politics and mainstream media:

Seeking victory vs. intentionally losing wars
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Big donors and corporations which benefit financially from our foreign policy decisions
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Criticizing crony capitalism not as vague generalities but as systemic corruption and identifying criminal behavior
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Muslim immigrant radicalization and participation in terrorism here and in Europe
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Abuse of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion by government officials
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Mass surveillance/”creepy-statesecurity theater abuses of the rights of American citizens
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Violent crime statistics broken down by race, especially rates of violent crime committed by young Black males
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Disparities in sentencing broken down by race, especially  harsh sentences for young Black males convicted of non-violent or minor offenses
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Successful self-defense with a gun (if criminals/terrorists die – so will the story in short order)
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Raising living standards for ordinary Americans as proper intent of government policy
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Immigration, esp. illegal immigration or that the  Immigration Act of 1965 was intended to change national demographics and drive down wages of skilled professionals and unskilled workers.
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Systematically tilting the scales against admitting the children of middle class and working class white and Asian-Americans to elite, “gateway” universities
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Erosion of Rule of Law  (including the following)
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And this is only a partial list.

To do well in the first Republican debate, Donald Trump need only show up and select a few of the more emotionally charged themes and throw them like bombs at the other GOP hopefuls on live television who will scatter but be unable to escape the collateral damage. Trump won’t need a plan or a policy or even a reasoned argument because his opponents have no way to talk sensibly about touchy subjects on the minds of millions of voters that their financial backers and the media don’t want them to even acknowledge. Harder still if Trump is getting laugh lines in at their expense. All of Trump’s vainglorious posturing like a professional wrestling heel aside, the man is absolutely at home in the television medium and comfortable in his own skin (to say nothing of his hair).

A real quandary. Attacking Trump personally, calling him names, ganging up on him or echoing liberal media criticisms will only boost his poll numbers with the GOP base and energize his clown car crash of a presidential campaign to new heights. Having nothing to lose himself with his self-parodying run, no need of campaign donors, Trump cannot be controlled and in a live format could drag down any other candidate with him. Or the Republican Party.

Trump would be an absolutely terrible president – its not even clear that he is serious about wanting the job – but as a candidate he is a walking, talking, club for Joe Sixpack to bludgeon an overweening, corrupt and increasingly authoritarian bipartisan elite.

The beating though is richly deserved and long overdue.

Released, recidivist

Friday, July 31st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Jerusalem and San Francisco, religious and not ]
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Two recent cases of recidivism:

Today:

and just a short while ago:

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In making the comparison, it is worth considering that in one case there were multiple wounded victims, in the other one victim killed; that in one case there’s a very close correspondence between the earlier and later crimes, in the other not so much; that in once case the concept of sanctuary cities is involved, in the other not; that in one case there was a clear religious motive, while in the other, not; that one plays into a narrative on the right, the other on the left..

My personal interest will be to see whether the Jerusalem Pride stabber claims he acted, as did Phineas in Numbers 25, without consulting a religious authority — because he knew he was carrying out the will of G*d. Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzak Rabin, made that claim according to the late Israeli analyst, Ehud Sprinzak.

On sneers, smears, and mutual sniping

Friday, July 31st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not exactly an enthusiast of negative campaigning ]
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I’ve been having a series of conversations with my friend Tom Merino recently, and a couple of days ago he suggested two quotes to me for comparison:

SPEC DQ Tom's DoubleSpeak

I’ve formatted them in my usual DoubleQuotes style, but my friend calls the pairing DoubleSpeak and sees them as the starting point for an investigation of the vexed question — who uses the most frequent and vicious slurs against “the other side” — liberals or conservatives?

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How would we even begin to measure that? Who would decide whether, for instance, smearing a Republican presidential candidate with a remark that clearly evokes slavery is a lesser or greater lapse than smirching a Democratic president with a remark that clearly evokes the Holocaust?

And who would host a venue where both liberals and conservatives could and would report abuses and insults of this sort, so that some measures of frequency, severity and authority could be employed in something resembling a fair ranking?

Note: on the difficulties of such ranking, see Malcolm Gladwell‘s The Order of Things.

**

And then there’s Sarah Palin, who used the phrase “blood libel” to describe attacks on her the wake of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords — because she, Palin, had used a map with crosshairs on Democrats she hoped would be defeated.. Giffords included.

SPEC DQ Palin map blood libel

— the problem here being that “blood libel” refers pretty specifically to the accusation against the Jews that they bake matzoh for Passover using the blood of young Christian children they have slaughtered.

Again, the rhetoric she used trivialized the blood libel, just as Biden trivialized slavery and Huckabee trivializes the Shoah.

**

But then, hey — if putting cross-hairs on Democrats you’d like to see removed from office is itself an example of heated and dangerous rhetoric, wouldn’t the same be true of putting targets on Republicans you’d like to see removed?

Here’s a helpful DoubleQuote in the Wild:

acceptable or not

Neither “targetting” political adversaries nor “having them in your crosshairs” equates to killing or there would have been a whole lot more attempted assassinations — just the one was bad enough.

Have some proportion, people.

**

How about that claim that Ahmadinejad said he wanted to “wipe Israel off the face of the map”?

Over the top rhetoric can be rabble rousing, it can also be a warning or a threat, and threats on occasion get carried into practice. So, serious as divisive language and a divided nation is (Luke 11.17), some rhetoric is charged with meaning that transcends mere words and implies — or impels or incites to — action.

Some details. Ahmadinejad didn’t say anything about “wiping Israel off the face of the map” — specifically, he didn’t use the word “map”, and he was quoting the Ayatollah Khomeini in any case. What he said is better translated “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” That’s Juan Cole’s translation, admittedly — but Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister of intelligence and atomic energy, told an Al Jazeera interviewer “They didn’t say, ‘We’ll wipe it out,’ you’re right, but, ‘It will not survive.’”

Is that the end of it? Ahmadinejad didn’t say “wipe off the face of the map” but “vanish from the page of time”?

By no meanms. The faulty English translation was picked up by the Iranians and used, in English, on billboards:

wiped banner from teitelbaum

That banner was on the outside of a Basij HQ.

There’s room enough for some nuance here, but also plenty of room for concern. I’ll include a selection of readings under “Sources & Readings” below..

**

Oh. Getting back to simple slurs..

Now I learn there’s a new word of scorn, applied by “alt.conservatives” to “conservatives.” Frankly, I find it a distasteful reminder of how low our public speech has fallen — but then I’m a Brit, and rank politeness pretty high — we’re more prone to understatement than plain speaking.

The Washington Post calls it “the the conservative insult of the month” and I won’t go there.

**

Sources & Readings:

  • Deena Zaru, Anti-Defamation League: Huckabee ‘completely out of line’
  • Mackenzie Weinger, GOP slams Joe Biden ‘chains’ remark
  • SarahPAC, Palin target map
  • Michael Shear, Palin Calls Criticism ‘Blood Libel’
  • RedState, Missouri GOP Senate Candidate Brunner Slams Sarah Palin For Rhetoric And “Cross-hairs” Map
  • Jonathan Steele, Lost in translation
  • Glenn Kessler, Did Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’?
  • Robert Mackey, Israeli Minister Agrees Ahmadinejad Never Said Israel ‘Must Be Wiped Off the Map’
  • Joshua Teitelbaunm, What Iranian Leaders Really Say about Doing Away with Israel: A Refutation of the Campaign to Excuse Ahmadinejad’s Incitement to Genocide
  • A symmetry of hatreds

    Saturday, July 18th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — in which a couple hundred people mimic our society at large ]
    .

    There were reports of some people shouting “white power!” while others were shouting “black power!” at rival protests outside the South Carolina State House today — but that just means that opposing views were expressed. The report that really caught my attention was this one, from The Hill:

    The media outlet’s coverage documented protesters from both rallies shouting obscenities, racial slurs and slogans at one another.

    It’s not so much the simple symmetry of opposing slogans that troubles me, it’s the symmetry of obscenities and racial slurs that’s so depressing.


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