Friday, November 26, 2004

The problem with Ledeen

I am thinking two more posts on Ledeen before I drop the subject. I know Mr. Ledeen doesn’t much care for those who “dither and debate.” But I am going to try to grabble with something he wrote a while back because one gets the impression that just as surely as he dislikes anyone’s excessive babble, so too is he aversive to “ skullduggery!” So we try to test his claims.

I normally follow what he writes easily as he is a clear thinker. But there is a passage of his that is not intuitively clear to me much in the same way as Euclid’s fifth postulate has never been quite as immediately transparent to me as the first four. So try to imagine my dismay and the precise number of the back flips I had to do in fury when I first encountered the following paragraph which I noticed again recently buried in my notes from a couple of years ago. (Feb. 18 of 2003 or 2002?! Feeling lazy tonight):

“The current paralysis is eerily similar to the one that gripped Jimmy Carter's administration in 1979, as the fall of the shah became ever more likely. Then, too, it seemed imperative for us to act. Then, as today, the actions required were political, not military: We should have encouraged the shah to fight for his throne. Instead, we wrapped ourselves in the mantle of political correctness, warned him about the use of violence, insisted that his troops use rubber bullets, demanded that he permit freedom of assembly, and mumbled reassuring words about the Ayatollah Khomeini. Andrew Young remarked that he was, after all, "a religious man." Then, as today, we told ourselves that it was their country, not ours, that the shah was fully capable of acting, and that he undoubtedly would. Why should we take the political risks involved in vigorously supporting him? […] Why should he get his hands dirty by fighting the mobs in the streets?” (emphasis added)

I have omitted two crucial sentences that he ends this section with. In fairness, I will add it on before I am through. But I want all of us to carefully consider what he is saying here. He has made, after all, a great deal of political capital by relentlessly defending the “suffering people” of Iran.

So, let us grant Mr. Ledeen the country he so intensely feels entitled to. If he wants it that badly, he can have it-- the dirt, pollution, false piety and all. And so we give him the golden key and proceed to make him an honorary citizen--albeit a most delightful kind, a self-hating one:

In Iran, where treachery has long been the national sport and superstition the bedrock of political analysis, the people are casting runes and reading entrails, searching for certainty about the American strategy. Once they know it, they will act accordingly.

I should emphasis here that I see no personal malice in what he says. That’s simply who he is; a very good natured Iranian at heart and also very consistent,

He [George W. Bush] seems to have extraordinarily good instincts and the kind
of faith-based courage that makes for good leadership under terrible circumstances.

But like most good Iranians, he is revealing a fear of confrontation with the past. And the fear of the past is also a sign of an inability to deal with the challenges of the present.

There are two fundamentally conventional modes of critiquing the present, remember. One can always criticize the present by appealing to the golden past. Or one can denounce the present in the name of some non-existent future. That’s what the Stalinists meant, I suppose, by the oxymoron “inevitability of history.” And that’s the sort of language we hear from all the interventionists these days.

To change the present, however, one has to understand the past that has given birth to it. The refusal to deal with the past, however, in its own terms might be, what I fear, the source of the spiritual emptiness that he seems to be detecting everywhere.

In essence, what we see here is Ledeen trying to account for our present paralysis—a paralysis that I think fundamentally rooted in cynicism, by rewriting the past. And so his answer becomes thaumaturgy. What makes him different is his desire to send the signals rather than read them. What he shares with most of the rest of us here-- his fellow citizens-- is the penchant for indulging illusions and false hopes.

For you see, a part of him is fully aware of what’s going on here:

Sometimes I think there's a kind of racism at work when we discuss Arabs, or, more broadly, Muslims, as if they were lacking a "democracy" or "freedom" chromosome or something. It's not genetic, it's something that has developed over time. And since nobody (myself in the forefront) knows what produces the collapse of civilizations and/or empires, we can't foretell what will happen if we liberate them from their current tyrants.

But that’s exactly what happened more than twenty five years ago here. There was an omniscient little Father then who had come to power through a coup, and had proceeded to monopolize power, deprived people of their freedoms—speech, assembly and association, among others.

Our good Father had initiated a not so very thoughtful land reform which displaced millions of peasants without the structure in place to absorb the new comers who flooded the cities en masse. There were shantytowns everywhere. I clearly remember , on my way to school as a boy shortly before the revolution, images of men, woman and children lining up with buckets to get drinking water from the street pumps no more than five hundred meters from our villas that had everything we wanted, because their houses had no running water. And this was in Tehran’s more affluent northern parts!

The rapid inflow of oil money had exacerbated the class distinctions with displays of obscene avarice next to the scenes of heart wrenching poverty. Our gentle Father and his cronies stole from the coffers of this nation, tortured and maimed and at some point “the suffering people of Iran,” decided they’d had enough.

They collectively organized and chose to take matters into their own hands. Then, as now, no one knew how the future was going to turn out. It was no where nearly as obvious that the Islamists were going the get the upper hand. The year immediately after the revolution saw the publication of hundreds of journals and mushrooming of political and other forms of organizations. People were in the streets excitedly trying to carve out time and space for self expressions.

In essence, what we witnessed was how millions of people stopped “casting runes, and reading entrails,” and taking the matter into their own hands. They cooperated, organized and tried to, as Machiavelli would say, “subdue fortune.” But they failed. We all failed. Was it clear then, as it is now, how things would turn out?

The citizens who chose to participate in the historic “experiment,” of that revolution are simply “mobs” to Ledeen who still thinks they should have all been shot with real bullets. Many were, but apparently not in as large a number as Ledeen had hoped.

But nowadays, all of the sudden, we’ve become the “suffering people” to him needing liberation from the tyrants.

It is all a game to him and none of us are real. Does he really think we are that dumb?

That’s Ledeen’s fundamental problem, you see. Our dear leaders have the exact same attitude. What we are to them is the extra’s in a passion play. But most of us have finally figured out that game. What Ledeen pitches is a no brainer here! It is a (not so deceptively) disguised instrumentalization of the silliest kind:

[…]our most devastating weapon is the suffering people, who hate the regime. Our most lethal weapon is political, not military. I am talking revolution, not invasion.

What Ledeen seems to have missed is the liberating education of the past twenty five years! Learning the hard way has a way of disabusing people of their innocence. We have had enough of the kind of “faith based courage,” which caused young boys to be horded into trucks, given an imported “key to heaven,” and made to walk on land mines.

Once some of your neighbors and relatives have been used as a mine sweeper, you have no idea how quickly folk naturally develop an aversion for becoming any other kind of living weapon. Notice, for instance, that none of us have become suicidal bombs either.

We (some) have grown wary of being lectured by leaders in direct communication with the Almighty. Some of us have had enough of of a sort of leap of faith that our saviors demand from us and all the normal sacrifices they expect in return for empty promises.

Some of us are tired of being expected to follow marching orders and the delusional directives of our quite numerous self appointed guardians, leaders and leader wannabes. We insist on answers to our why questions before we move. Some of us remain skeptical of Ledeen’s many claims-- like this old one for instance:

There is a very good Iraqi Government in Exile, the Iraqi National Congress et. al., with a very good leader, Ahmad Chalabi. He has held this leaky ship together for more than a decade, despite repeated betrayals by the United States--Bush the Elder, Clinton, and the State Department always. I believe he'll be, at a minimum, an excellent leader of the transition period (just as I expect Reza Pahlavi will be an excellent leader of the Iranian transition period).


What has Mr. Pahlavi Jr. ever done to warrant this trust? Has he done a single honest day’s work since he left Iran? Where does he get his money from? What has he ever accomplished? Would anyone hire him to manage a McDonalds, let alone to lead of a country of 70 million in transition?

I’ll cut this short. Time to add those two sentences I told you I’d omitted:

He [the Shah] was overthrown, we suffered a monumental setback, radical jihadism
took root, and the Iranian people began 24 years of misery.

True enough. But that’s the risk we all take in violently fiddling with the present. That’s the risk he wants everyone to take in the Middle East these days, doesn’t he? But then, as now, there was no way of knowing how things would turne out. And that’s why I am gradually more perturbed by what’ happening all around me. I constantly re-play the various “what if” scenarios in my head.

What if more people had spoken up insisting on the need for the due process when the father of those young playmates of ours in the neighborhood was summarily executed? What if more people had spoken up when the Kurds were attacked? What if the moment the American hostages were seized and life militarized, people had insisted upon setting them free, thereby preventing the centralization of power which ensued shortly afterward, which only empowered the pressure groups and assorted goons which came to constitute the backbone of this regime.

What if Saddam hadn’t attacked utterly disrupting the organic flow of life in the aftermath of the popular revolution of 79? What if there was no Mujahedeen instigated campaign of terrorism, which gave the regime the excuse it needed to clamp down and butcher tens of thousands?

And countless other what ifs?

And so the future could have been different, yes, but this miserable present is all we’ve got now. And that’s the grand mystery of all presents, don’t you think? We can never know for sure what will turn up twenty five years down the road.

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