« Agitprop not done here. | Main | Turkey, Hadith and the Gate of Ijtihad »

27 February 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


David Habakkuk:

Thank you for your well-considered thoughts on proliferation of nuclear weapons. I am current reading Jonathan Schell's recent "The Seventh Decade", which does an excellent great job of documenting (and validating) the political concerns you write of here.

There is no question that there are thorny technical issues involved in developing nuclear weapons programs. There is also no question that these programs live in a larger political context, and that in this political sphere, events are not going well for the world's peoples. The human race cannot long afford to ignore this problem.

Babak Makkinejad

David Habakkuk:

Thank you for your comments. I would like to amplify some of your points.

I think that civilization is a machine, made by human beings, in order to cater to the needs of human beings from before they are born until after they die. And like all human artifacts, it is subject to the inevitable decay and decline governed by the inherent tendency in the Universe for the decrease in order and increase in disorder; i.e. the Second Law of Thermodynamics & increase of entropy. Civilization, in my opinion, as a machine, cannot serve as a sound foundation for a moral order.

I think that the Western Civilization, with the United States being the highest exponent of that Civilization, is the dominant civilization on Earth. Moreover, if you were a (Western) European travelling in Latin America, Africa, and Asia anytime during the last 300 years you would come back home convinced of the superiority of your own civilization and filled with contempt for the others – and you would be quite justified- in my opinion- in feeling smug about that. In that sense, indeed the barbarians are at the gates and just like Rome & the Sassanid Iran they are invading the Empire. In US this may be characterized by the influx of the Spanish-Speaking Catholics from the South and in Europe by the influx of assorted Slavic Christians from the East and Arab Muslims from the South.

What I have found disturbing about Western people is that something close to half of them believe themselves to be morally superior to others (non-Western people). This is very plain to non-Western people and they immediately pick on that. Now, a position of technical superiority in building and maintaining a superior civilization does not automatically imply moral and ethical superiority (note how the Rabbis rejected Rome 2000 years ago). It is this smug sense of ethical superiority that I personally find grating and which will be resisted to Eternity by non-Western people.

I think that the historical moment for a world dominated by the “Common Trans-Atlantic Sphere of Influence” is passed; it vanished with WWI (and WWII destroyed its remnants.) I think also that civilizations are not historical actors; states are. Therefore one has to concentrate on the policies that are formulated at the state level. Since EU does not have a state structure, I fail to see it being able to play an effective role in the intercourse among states and thus one has to look to the behavior of individual states.

UK has determined that a credible survivable nuclear force is essential to her security. The statement of Lady Thatcher regarding nuclear weapons having kept the peace in Europe was never repudiated by her party or the opposition party. France is maintaining her nuclear weapons. The Indian national security advisor implies that to be a player in the international arena one has to have the ability to annihilate tens of millions of civilians. Israel develops and maintains her nuclear weapons against defenseless states surrounding her. Thus, I am led to believe that a world of proliferation is the most likely outcome if the current trends continue.

I do not think that the lessons of the Cold War are necessarily applicable to the rest of the World or understood for that matter. NATO and WARSAW pact consisted of highly industrialized and integrated states that could not survive and continue to function after a nuclear war- in my opinion. While it is conceivable that some hamlet in Russia or in US would survive a nuclear war the same could not be said about any place in Europe, Japan, or Korea. So these two alliances, in my view, had very little incentive to initiate a war. The same does not obtain for China and India for example. The diffuse and highly rural composition of these two states’ population makes it probable that their states and polities can continue to function after a nuclear war. I think therefore that nuclear weapons will be used in the future and once they are used the belligerents may find them not as useful as they thought.

Babak Makkinejad


Thank you for your enlightening comments.

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that democracy and its attendant cult of egalitarianism has caused Americans to seek a path out of ordinariness through the notions of Americans as the Chosen People and America as the City on the Hill, the New Jerusalem, etc.

This must be a relatively new phenomenon in American history, judging by the date of the publication of Jack London’s “The Scarlet Plague” in 1912. [Coincidently, that was smack in the middle of the massive immigration into US which started in 1870s.]

I find this disturbing since the path out of ordinariness seems to require the death of the millions of other human beings (an splendid manifestation of the Fall of Man and the Love & Hate relationship of human beings with other members of their species).

There is also this: Carl Gustav Jung once observed that while he did not see WWI coming, he was certain of another war (WWII) since he noticed how Germans were possessed by Wotan. Are we speaking of some sort of possession here with analogous consequences?



Good questions! As far as your suggestion of "possession", that might indeed be the operative phrase. And I would agree with your catalog of examples of American exceptionalist thought (though I don't know if these are due to the causes you suggest).

But I would not say that exceptionalism is a new American phenomenon, only that our means of expressing this principle has changed with time. Frederick Jackson Turner's work certainly informs this view, and much of the dark side of current American culture can be seen in his prescient writings.

I actually do believe that America is an exceptional place. There is something truly singular about this country (my personal belief is that what is unique and valuable arises primarily from the broad diversity of our population and the universality of the governing principles developed by our founding fathers, but that's just my opinion).

One of the reasons I so enjoyed reading Senator Webb's "Born Fighting" was that it developed a compelling framework for how Scots-Irish culture helped create a political fabric in the earliest days of this nation, one that facilitated exceptional thoughts and deeds, so that some of our beliefs in exceptionalism are indeed well-earned.

But the notion of exporting the principles that we believe make us great, with said exports being sold to the world at the point of a sword, is a fundamentally un-American act. Unbridled imperialism is a relatively recent development in American culture, and since our nation is arguably the poster child for the rejection of colonial principles, we certainly ought not be caught practicing those imperial principles.

And to the extent we do practice them, we are not an exceptional nation.

Cold War Zoomie

Oh boy, I just can't stop picking this scab and am breaking my promise.

Last I checked, no one's running on an "Apocalypse for the People" platform right now.

Yes, we Americans definitely have a sense of exception. Like every other country on the planet. During our own travels, how many of us have met *anyone* who says "gee, my people suck and you Americans are the greatest thing since sliced bread! I want to be just like you!" By and large, people are proud of their clan which often means looking down on someone else.

Yes, we have tons of apocalyptic nutjobs screaming from the rooftops. (I also told myself I would stop categorizing religious groups - oh well.) And the GOP recognized a pool of motivated voters when they saw it. Let's be realistic, though. If there ever was a time for these groups to gain control of our foreign policy, it was the last few years with Bush and the GOP. It has been bad, but not apocalyptic - and I do not want to, in any way, downplay the destruction Bush and his bozos have wrought. There's a reason we haven't unleashed nuclear weapons in the ME: the real movers and shakers in the GOP aren't listening to those Apocalyptic lunatics. Oh, they want their votes all right, just not their advice.

I'm not convinced that Mr. Baram is wrong in his analysis. The big difference is Mr. Sadr has a well-armed and willing militia while our lunatic fringe has broadcasting licenses, websites, and printing presses. He's ready to go whereas ours will be even more marginalized once Americans understand the agenda.

You think it's bad now? I remember when this guy, JB Stoner, was running for office. He was a member of a different yet related fringe - one that actually had a lot of political power at one time but had slowly been marginalized. I predict the same path for the current crop.


Do you remember JB Stoner ads on Channel 17 (Atlanta) back in the 1970s where a picture of his mug in front of the Stars & Bars would pop up and he would yell the most outrageous stuff like "Vote Right - Vote White: JB Stoner"? (That's the tame stuff, folks.)

David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinejad, Cieran,

A remark by David Johnson, who edits the Johnson's Russia List, an indispensable source of information on Russia for those without knowledge of the language, provoked a response from Jack Matlock, the last U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, which I think bears on this discussion. The key line refers to nuclear weapons, and the need 'to stop acting as if they are sources of power.' But the exchange as a whole is interesting.

Johnson concluded his comment by saying:

'If there are any open minded people left JRL is for you. Those who already have a "mission" vis-a-vis Russia will find useful ammunition in JRL but they won't really be making the best use of it.'

Ambassador Matlock responded:

'Dear David,

'Your comment is right on, and the Washington Post editorial (like several earlier ones) is outrageous. There are many things happening in Russia that are not in Russia's interest in the long run. There have been quite a few things happening in the U.S., and actions by the U.S., that are not in our interest. We have to stop sniping at each other and concentrate on our mutual interests, the most important of which is to continue the course set by Reagan, Gorbachev, and Bush the 41st to continue reduction of nuclear weapons and to stop acting as if they are sources of power. We will not constrain proliferation if we continue our present policies that can only give us another dangerous and costly arms race.

'If most Russians are more comfortable with a more authoritarian government at home than Americans would be, that is their business. If Russia uses its energy resources as instruments of national power, it is doing only what any country would do--and which the U.S. traditionally has done. A rational U.S. would act promptly to decrease dependence on imported oil and thus reduce the leverage countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia have on world markets. (My guess is that much more money going to Saudi Arabia is being used to finance radical Islam, than the money going to Russia.)

'In short, it is time to tone down the rhetoric and get back to basics. We contributed greatly to the surge of nationalism in Russia today by our policies in the 1990s, and particularly by the unilateral course the current Bush administration has taken. This doesn't make us responsible for Putin's unfortunate actions, but our policies certainly harmed the democratic forces in Russia and contributed to the current mindset in Russia.'

David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinejad, Andy

The blog has obviously moved on to new topics.

But there is one important element in the argument about nuclear weapons and proliferation which I should have mentioned -- the embracing of the abolitionist agenda by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn.

(See the WSJ article of January 4, 2007, at http://www.fcnl.org/issues/item_print.php?item_id=2252&issue_id=54,
and their follow up of January 15, 2008, available at http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB120036422673589947.html.)

Another interesting conversion, which has attracted less notice than it deserved, was that of the late Paul Nitze. It was Nitze who, in NSC 68 repudiated the attempted by George Kennan to revive the agenda for the international control of atomic energy which had been abandoned following the failure of the Baruch Plan in 1946.

His coming round to Kennan's old agenda was signalled in a 1999 article entitled 'A Threat Mostly to Ourselves', available at http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/nwc/news/e19991028ourselves.htm.

An interesting article on relationship of Kennan and Nitze, entitled 'Worthy Opponents', was published in the Boston Globe in April 2005 by Nicholas Thompson.
(See http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/04/03/worthy_opponents?pg=full.)

Actually, I am not convinced Thompson understands either Kennan's position or that of his grandfather correctly. An important and neglected point is that Nitze actually did his best to accommodate in NSC 68 the moral and prudential objections which Kennan raised against strategies of first-use. This was an important part of the background to the project for massive conventional rearmament which is central to NSC 68 -- which in turn entailed the kind of threat inflation criticised by Bohlen, from which the whole neoconservative tradition of interpretation of Soviet military policy derives.

Another important part of the background, which has come into focus in recent years, is that neither Nitze's strategic concept or Kennan's was simply defensive. There were complicated arguments in both the U.S. in Britain about the pro and cons of 'political warfare'. As Richard Aldrich made clear in his 2001 study The Hidden Hand, the more radical British exponents of covert operations had very ambitious objectives indeed -- to push the Stalinist system to self-destruct. His view is that Kennan's strategic conception, although more sophisticated, was similar. Also relevant here are a number of recent American studies, notably Peter Grose's Operation Rollback and Gregory Mitrovich's Undermining the Kremlin. This last helps make possible a proper appreciation of Bohlen -- a much better analyst, and worthier human being, than the overestimated Kennan.

On another matter. Thanks to Andy for the Schmitt/Shulsky paper he sent me. After being very busy with other projects, I have got back to trying to make sense of the body of literature produced by the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence. I am still trying to locate the 1996 'Future of U.S. Intelligence Paper'. The simplest course seemed to be to email Roy Godson, and ask if he can intercede with me with the National Strategy Information Center people. If you know Professor Godson, I would be grateful if you could put in a word on my behalf!

Meanwhile, the email I sent me included a short piece by me updating sections of my 2005 post on the Schmitt/Shulsky article on Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence. It occurred to me it might interest you -- so I will send it.

Cold War Zoomie

More news about Our Man from Najaf:

BBC Report

He wants to move up the religious ladder.

Good thing we're there fighting his battles for him so he can accumulate more power before we leave.

Babak Makkinejad

Cold War Zoomie:

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

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad