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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 ]

chautauqua haqqani daveed


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.


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 real – 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.


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:

Reprehending Ignorance about Syria

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

I’ve had the pleasure of introducing Timothy R. Furnish, PhD, as a guest blogger here before. Today he offers us his timely commentary on factors which should influence US decision-making regarding Syria. Here I would invite you to note especially his comments on the religious factors involved, which he characterizes as “the most salient issue at hand” and details in the long paragraph which begins “Finally…”

Charles Cameron

Ottoman Asia (partial map, 1893)

American intervention in Syria, most likely in the form of air- or cruise missile-strikes against select targets, now seems a certainty, considering that not just the Obama Administration but a whole host of politicians and commentators — ranging across the political spectrum, from Bill O’Reilly to Senator John McCain and to “The New York Times” editorial board — stridently supports military action. The reasons adduced are primarily these:

1) The usage of chemical weapons is an atrocity and violation of international law and must be punished accordingly
2) Syria being Iran’s “pawn,” any strike at the Damascus regime is tantamount to one at the Islamic Republic and, thus, ipso facto a good thing
3) al-Asad is a Hitleresque “monster” — no further discussion required
4) President Obama’s credibility is at stake, his having previously deemed usage of chemical weapons to be an uncrossable “red line” that would trigger retaliation.

Those opposed to the US attacking the al-Asad regime invoke, rather, points such as:

1) Realpolitick-wise, the US has no national security interest in Syria
2) Any action that degrades the al-Asad regime actually helps the jihadist elements of the Syrian opposition, especially the al-Qa`ida-affiliated, pro-caliphate Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham min Mujahidin al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad (“The Front of Support to the Family of Syria from the Holy Warriors of Syria in the Battlefields of Jihad”). As LTC Ralph Peters put it on “The O’Reilly Factor” (8.27.13), “do we really want to help the jihadists who perpetrated 9/11?”
3) US bombing — even if attempted “surgically” — will result in collateral damage to Syrian civilians and motivate Syria and its allies (especially Iran and Hizbullah) to activate terrorist cells against Americans, certainly in the larger Middle East, probably in Europe and possibly even in the US homeland.

Three major areas of ignorance are manifested in these two Manichaean positions (albeit moreso in the pro-bombing camp).

First, it is not (yet) certain that it was indeed the al-Asad regime that employed chemical weapons. According to a source with whom I am in contact — a former intelligence operative who worked in Syria for a number of years — it is quite possible that Jabhat al-Nusra, or one of the other jihadist opposition groups (Syrian Islamic Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Ansar al-Islam, Ahfad al-Rasul, etc.) pilfered a government chemical weapons stockpile and wielded the lethal bounty in a false flag operation. It is also possible that such jihadist groups were supplied chemical weapons directly by* North Korea.

Second, it is simply not the case in modern times that use of chemical or nerve agents automatically provokes the international community’s wrath. Libya used such weapons in Chad in 1986, and (more infamously) Saddam Husayn did likewise against Iraqi Kurds in 1987. Neither of those events engendered US or NATO retaliation. Furthermore, Syria is not a signatory to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention prohibiting utilization of chemical or nerve agents; and Damascus signed the similar 1925 Geneva Protocol when it was under the French Mandate—thus having no choice in the matter. This in no wise lessens the horror of chemical weapons, but an American administration headed by a self-styled former law professor would do well to get its international legal ducks in a row before launching the first cruise missile.

Finally, and most importantly, neither the pro- nor anti-bombing faction seems aware of the most salient issue at hand: that the ruling regime is composed of Alawis, a heretical Shi`i offshoot sect the adherents of which have long been condemned as murtaddun, “apostates,” in Sunni Islam — first by the (in)famous Sunni cleric Ibn Taymiyah in his early-14th c. AD fatwas, then again just last year by the al-Qa`ida cleric Abd Allah Khalid al-Adm, who said “don’t consult with anyone before killing Alawites.” Alawis have existed for about a millennium, mostly in the mountains of coastal Lebanon and Syria, and have always been persecuted by Sunni rulers, going back to the first days of Ottoman Turkish control of the Levant in the 16th century. Under the French Mandate, post-World War I, and afterwards they insinuated themselves into the military and intelligence service such that, eventually, one of their own, Hafiz al-Asad, took control in 1970. Spurned by Sunni Arab countries, the elder al-Asad cleverly got his Alawi sect officially declared Shi`i by the influential Lebanese Twelver Shi`i cleric Musa al-Sadr (before the latter disappeared in Libya in 1976); and when the ayatollahs took control of Iran in 1979, Damascus and Tehran began, if not a beautiful, certainly a mutually beneficial, friendship — which has existed ever since. Hafiz and his son Bashar al-Asad both ruled largely as secularists — due to their sectarian affiliation, and to their official ideology of Arab socialism, articulated as the Ba`ath Party. (So to be fair to Hillary Clinton — who, in March 2011, referred to Bashar al-Asad as a “reformer” — he was much more modernizing and tolerant than many Sunni leaders of the region, if only out of political necessity.) That meant that the 10% of the Syrian population that is Christian largely supported the leader of the strange Islamic sect (also comprising about 10% of Syrians) over against the 3/4 of the population that is Sunni, fearing what a Muslim Brotherhood/Salafi takoever would portend for them. Such fears have skyrocketed since the “Arab Spring” came to Syria over two years ago — especially as groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and its ilk have trumpeted their hatred of Alawis and their burning desire for a Sunni caliphate that would relegate Christians (and Jews) to their historical, second-class dhimmi status. Thus, it is not totally beyond comprehension why a beleaguered, religiously-heterodox regime might feel it necessary to deploy, and perhaps even use, chemical weapons — as a means of staving off probable extermination at the hands of jihadists.

All in all, it appears that the pro-bombing position is much weaker than the anti-attack one. As noted previously, chemical weapons’ usage has not automatically resulted in international action in punishment; Syria is not, legally, bound by relevant conventions; and we are not certain which side actually used these arms. The idea that “any strike against the Damascus regime is a blow to Iran” is dubious at best: Iraq is at least as solicitous of the Islamic Republic as is Syria, but no calls for bombing Baghdad have been proffered. Some advance the thesis that striking al-Asad’s forces helps Israel’s geopoliticial position — but one can equally well argue that cutting off Tehran’s access to Lebanese Hizbullah would undercut the ayatollahs’ main conventional warfare outlet, and thus make it more likely they would want to use the nuclear weapons they will very soon possess. Furthermore, why should the Alawi, Druze and Christian minorities of Syria pay the price for US cowardice about attacking Iran directly? As for the “al-Asad = Hitler” trope — how many years will it take before the West, particularly the US, can wage war without “Hitlerizing” the opposition? That’s not a rational argument; it’s an emotional one. And regarding the allegation that President Obama needs to attack Syria in order to resurrect his political credibility, at home and abroad — let us hope that he is not, still, that callow after over five years in the White House. At least Richard III only needed his ignorance, not his political cunning, reprehended.

On the other side of the equation: the US does have security interests in the region, but not specifically in Syria; it is certainly true that vitiating al-Asad’s military will simultaneously empower the opposition — and not just the ostensibly-Westernized Free Syrian Army but also the jihadists like Jabhat al-Nusra; and it’s very likely that extant Iranian-trained terrorist cells will activate in Europe and the US if we intervene in Syria.

As Gandalf advised in The Fellowship of the Ring: “Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. Even the very Wise cannot see all ends.” The Obama Administration, and its supporters advocating attacking the Syrian regime, may not be able to see all ends; but they could certainly strive to be a bit wiser and consider some relevant data that might just be inconvenient to their position — before meting out yet more American death in the Middle East.


To view the Ottoman Empire map at the head of the post at full size, see here and click for high resolution.

FTR, this post was received from Dr Furnish dated, and posted here, 8.28.2013. * indicates an edit made at Dr Furnish’s request upon rereading after publication.

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