Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Daniel Larison's Paleoconservative Historical Revisionism

The paleoconservative mind works in strange ways.

As I noted in my recent post on
Barack Obama's neoconservative pragmatism, Daniel Larison, the "big" paleocon blogger at the American Conservative, lives in a strange world of anti-American faux-conservatism, topped off with a dollop of antiwar nihilism. For one who attacks neoconservatives as "fantasists," Larison must certainly be drinking from the same alleged draft of Koolaid as those "evil" neocons he seeks to excoriate. Today's example is from his post hammering Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who argues in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that Iran, following the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, avoided the lapse into pacifist funk like the British, and their collapse of will during the interwar years. Netanyahu argues, in fact, that Iran's more aggressive than ever, and that the leadership in Tehran is afflicted by a "wide-eyed fanaticism" that poses a threat to Israel and the entire Middle East.

But here's
Larison's response, such as it is (he shifts the example from the British case to the French, oddly):

People will endure remarkable hardship, at least once, to expel an invader from their country. Like France after Verdun, the horrific experience might be great enough to force a nation into a purely defensive posture, but even post-WWI France, which is a better comparison with post-1988 Iran, did not sink into pacifism.

Indeed, the occupation of the Rhineland, security guarantees to central European states and the building of the Maginot Line all point not to pacifism, but to an assumption that another war might come and France should be prepared for it. The Maginot Line came out of the experience of Verdun, which was that the defensive position held the overwhelming advantage in modern warfare; the problem with the Maginot Line was not that it was defensive and therefore somehow “weak” or pacifistic, but plainly enough that it did not guard the entire border.
Larison reverts back to a discussion of Britain after this, but a brief examination of his thesis demonstrates he's simply clueless on the international politics of the pre-WWII European balance of power.

Historians have long since shown that "pacifism" in the interwar context is captured by the entire collapse of social will that indicates a stage existential crisis far beyond numbers of men under arms or military armaments. The French case is even worse than the British, for as Eugen Weber has shown in his book,
The Hollow Years: France in the 1930's, the entire national posture in France in the face of the rising Nazi challenge was one of national decay, moral laziness, and cowardly inaction. If anything, the Maginot was the greatest French symbol of the refusal to fight. I mean, really, the Maginot Line was a huge national system of underground bunkers within which French troops could hide from German Panzer divisions! There was no "overwhelming" advantage to defense on the eve of World War II. It was the opposite, as the German High Command's blitzkrieg strategy was to illustrate in the rapid defeat of the French in 1940. Basic books of French interwar history have covered the theme of French pacifism and moral decay for decades. William Shirer's The Collapse of the Third Republic is the central first-hand journalistic account, and the outstanding scholarly synthesis of the historiography can be found in Robert Young's, France and the Origins of the Second World War. Young's theme is strategic "ambivalence" rather than pacifism, so if folks want to quibble with details, you might be able to throw Larison a bone with that.

But France isn't really as important here as is Iran's manifest intentions toward strategic domination of the Mideast region. Larison's going to downgrade the threat from Tehran because I seriously doubt he believes in Israel's right to exist, and he certainly doesn't support America's historic stand in support of the Jewish state. It's not in the "national interest," you know.

In any case, there was another interesting debate on Iran today, surrounding the publication of a propaganda piece
in today's Los Angeles Times by Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a spokeman for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The essay is a respone to President Barack Obama's "Nowruz Address." Read the whole thing. This part is especially good:

The Iranian nation, in keeping with true Islamic precepts, does not covet the territory of other countries and has not attacked any other country. We have always acted only in defense of our land. We wish other countries well, and we even pray for our foes. We hate death and destruction -- and wish prosperity and a better life for all nations.

Our Iranian civilization, culture, beliefs, traditions and Islamic values are incompatible with terror, war and bloodshed. Mr. Obama should take note that the era of gaining superiority through weaponry and state-sponsored terrorism has expired. The world must move forward ruled by divine values, rationality, morality and respect for culture.
But check out, for contrast, Abraham at Occidental Soapbox, and his comments on Obama's diplomatic outreach to Iran:

Obama's communiqué to Iran is not the manifestation of a new era in foreign policy. His is a well-worn foreign policy of appeasing implacable enemies. Obama is insisting to himself and to us as a nation that his peace overtures will somehow be received productively by a regime whose constitution is based directly on the Quran and which has contempt for our very notion of what life is and should be. And so the mutual respect Obama apparently seeks with Iran is by definition impossible. The United States is simply treading water, albeit more eloquently under Obama than under Bush, while our destructive and ultimately self-destructive enemy strengthens itself and prepares for the inevitable conflict.

We have learned that our President can pronounce "Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak", but we have not been given any compelling reason to hope for a non-violent political solution to the confrontation with Iran. It is the most dangerous foreign policy conundrum of our time, and will become increasingly dangerous if Mr. Obama's friendly orations continue with no political horizon in sight.
In any case, Daniel Larison can chew on this for a while.

I'll have more later ...


Dave said...

...but even post-WWI France, which is a better comparison with post-1988 Iran, did not sink into pacifism.

LOL-Wow, that one needed a spew alert.


GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Yeah that comparison with 1918 France and Persia in 1988 is not even good revisionism.

BiBi is correct. Ex CIA military spy guy for Iran in the late 80's and early 90's was Dr Ken Pollack.

His "Persia Puzzle" reveals that Iran began gearing up - not to defend herself against a neighbor despot that had bankrupted her and totally trashed the place.

Iran began a crash course on ballistic missiles, WMD, nuclear stuff and stand off weapon systems that are only feasible against carrier battle groups.

Pity the paleocons. Their bizarro mix of Realpolitik and selective isolationism is laughably gettting left where it belongs.

In the last millennium.

dave in boca said...

A lot of the American Conservative crowd are Jew-haters, if not out-and-out anti-Semites like Taki the crazed Greek who runs the rag.

And Larison's description of the clueless French is totally wrong, and the Blum Popular Front was a total pacifist pro-USSR collection of traitors-to-be. The German seizure of the Rhineland in '36 was sheer bluff, and Hitler was ready to retreat at the slightest resistance.

The surrender monkeys didn't disappoint Adolf and he kept going all in until they foolishly guaranteed the Polish borders after giving Czechoslovakia totally to AH's Reich. Yeah, feed the beast & expect him to obey when you finally stop?

I don't like Bibi or Arik, but at least the Israelis have stones, unlike the Brits, Frogs, and the EU in general nowadays. And maybe Zero himself, but he did grow a testicle on Afghanistan.

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks for commenting, Dave!

AmPowerBlog said...

Hi Courtney!

"Pity the paleocons." You said it, sweetie!

AmPowerBlog said...

"Zero" Dave? That's "The One", don't know, LOL!

Neal Murray said...

As a paleocon, Im not going to address the adhominem charges of anti-Americanism and anti-semitism being floated about here, since these things are designed not to stimulate debate but to suffocate it. You also have a point about pacifism being a psychological condition, defined by a demoralized and craven leadership class, rather than necessarily a material condition, defined by an absence of military hardware. That's a debate for another day. Now, I just wish to address your remarks about the Maginot line, because you horribly misunderstood Larison's argument.

Larison said the French believed the Maginot line would be an effective defense. That is quite a different matter, you must agree, from whether or not it was effective, as there is a logical distinction between belief and reality. A nation can believe all sorts of things which, judged from the convenient perch of hindsight, look absolutely foolish and silly. Larison is a historian by vocation, so his job is to uncover and understand those attitudes, rather than to ignore and mock them from the present.

Indeed, an examination of the relevant history does allow us to understand the purpose of the Maginot Line. Prior to World War I, the French military leadership was still very much enraptured by the "elan" of the offensive charge, a line of thinking that stretched back to Napoleonic times. Obviously, the developments in small arms and artillery that took place between 1815 and 1914 made this a pretty antique philosophy to hold, and France learned this the hard way by suffering devastating casulaties in its attempts to overrun the German trenches. As Larison properly recalls, where the French were successful (in a tactical sense) was at Verdun, where the beat back repeated German attacks from a series of fortifications.

A famous adage has it that countries are always "fighting the last war". Modern France is probably the best example of this mistake: From the Napoleonic Wars, it drew the lesson that an aggressive offense would win the day; from the First World War, it drew the lesson that a fortified defense could repel any invader. Both lessons were already outdated by the time they were tested.

The Maginot Line can then be understood as a form of overcorrection. Their experience in World War 1 led the French to believe that fixed positions, heavily bolstered by machine guns, artillery and earthworks, could decimate any invader that presented itself. It failed to foresee the potential of manuever (third-generation) warfare, which, as you probably know, was greatly enhanced by technologic advancements that took place between both world wars, particularly in the area of tanks, armoured vehicles and fighter aircraft. (Tanks in World War I were notoriously bad: they were slow and broke down all the time.)

Anyways, that's all I got. Hope it clears some things up.