Wednesday, February 3, 2010

John Mearsheimer on the Germanic formation of Leo Strauss


      Coming to Chicago after Leo Strauss had died, John Mearsheimer, nonetheless, has had a deep impression of the unfolding of the Strauss phenomenon.  I asked him what he could tell me about Strauss and the neoconservatives, and he offered some striking reflections. 

      “Alan, Just a few words on Strauss and the neoconservatives. In the run-up to the Iraq war, many emphasized that there was a close link between Strauss and the neoconservatives, especially Paul Wolfowitz, who studied here at Chicago when Strauss was still on the faculty. I never saw much of a connection and I always thought that if Strauss were alive, he would have opposed the Iraq war, and the Bush Doctrine more generally. The key to understanding Strauss for me is to recognize that he was first and foremost a German thinker. His world was that of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, the crisis of historicism, Kaiser Bill, Ludendorf, Hitler, Imperial Germany, Weimar Germany, and Nazi Germany. He came to America rather late in life, well after his world-view was established and at a time when America was an intellectual wasteland. America had little influence on him. Furthermore, Strauss was not a liberal and not even sympathetic to liberalism. Indeed, he disliked liberalism. As Heinrich Meier points out, Strauss criticized Carl Schmitt for not going far enough in his critique of liberalism in "The Concept of the Political." It is hardly surprising that he distrusted liberal democracy, given that his only experience with that political order before coming to the US was Weimar Germany, which not only collapsed under its own weight, but gave way to the Third Reich. I believe that Strauss -- for good reasons -- had a very dark view of history and humankind, which, I might add, is not reflected in the story that his acolytes tell about his thinking. I think [Lawrence] Lampert [who has written on Strauss and Nietzsche] does a much better job of capturing Strauss's  political philosophy. I  find it hard to imagine Strauss buying on to the Iraq war and the Bush Doctrine. After all, the aim there was to do massive social engineering in the Middle East at the end of a rifle barrel, with Iraq as the first target. We were going to transform the entire region into a sea of liberal democracies -- make the countries there look like the US and Western Europe -- and that supposedly would ameliorate if not eliminate our troubles in the area. I bet Strauss would have thought that this was madness, which it was! By the way, I talked at length to Joe Cropsey (he and I have been good friends for almost 28 years) about this matter in the run-up to the Iraq war, and he agreed with me  that Strauss would have opposed it. And Joe supported the war. Nathan [Tarcov], of course, knew better. On the neoconservatives, they are all products of Cold War America  and they are liberals in both the Hartzian and Wilsonian sense. Unlike Strauss, they are Americans through and through and that difference really matters. The neoconservatives think about liberal democracy and humankind more generally in ways that would be foreign to Strauss.  I can't imagine Strauss writing ‘The End of History.’ Or anything close to it! I might add that the key intellectual force behind most of the neoconservatives -- and certainly Wolfowitz -- was Albert Wohlstetter not Strauss, although they were colleagues for a brief time here at  Chicago. Finally, I am not a Straussian (I was greatly influenced by Isaac Kramnick, not Werner Dannhauser, when I was in graduate school at Cornell), but I do think that Strauss was one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century. He is a world historical figure. Save for Frank Fukuyama, the neoconservatives are all minor intellects who do not even play in the major leagues. Fukuyama is the exception, but even he is not in the same league as Strauss. And he abandoned neoconservatism over the Iraq war and the Bush Doctrine, which he wisely opposed before March 19, 2003! I hope you find these comments helpful. I wish I had time to write more, but I have to get ready to teach two courses in the winter quarter and finish my book on "Lying in International Politics" for Oxford University Press by March 1, 2010. Happy new year and best wishes. John”

      The core insight of John’s letter, an insight shared with Cropsey, who was Strauss’s organizer in the Chicago political science department and literary executor, is that Strauss was a reactionary German thinker who had contempt for liberals and for the American intellectual wasteland. It is a telling point.  Even the greatest thinkers emerge in an historical context.  Plato, the great Athenian anti-democrat and affirmer of philosophical-tyranny, was not a would-be American liberal. If Strauss himself had not spent so much time deliberately obfuscating this point about himself and largely hiding his past – writing exoterically in his idiom – and his acolytes did not so want him to be a defender of the great power America as a liberal-democracy – he “defended”  a tyrannical executive or commander-in-chief power in America against liberalism – John’s point would be obvious. Just ask yourself for a moment: why did Strauss need to veil his past, his early writings?  Arendt or the members of the Frankfurt School had no such need. As Strauss would put it, this is clear to “the naked eye,” ad oculos. So is the point that his rare writing about Americans like the classics scholar Erik Havelock is to excoriate them as decadent representatives of the modern age, the age of the last men.  See here and here.  If Strauss is a friend of liberals, they need have no enemies.

     On John’s account, Strauss had a clear vision of power relations.  In fact, I will suggest, it is what Strauss focused on from the first (see here).  That being the case, the idea that reality is what the Empire makes and not something to which it has to attend in its purposes is the characteristic of neo-conservative “idealism.”  It is in that sense that the neocons are “Wilsonian” through and through.*  The contextual difference is clear: though avid for Empire and fierce about the need for war, Strauss might still have had the common sense not to have supported/set in motion the Iraq war. 

     Now in the Strauss archive at Regenstein to which Nathan Tarcov graciously admitted me (he hopes to initiate a new era in Strauss studies), I found memos to Charles Percy, a future Republican presidential candidate,  recommending that the US take out Cuba with the brutality that the Soviets used in Hungary.  See here.  Strauss was in that letter opposed to the modern age – he insists that politicians must seek no cure for poverty - and in another one, suggested pretty much "better dead than red," a view mirroring the dark end of On Tyranny.  See here.  Scott Horton wrote an interesting comment on this, comparing my view of Strauss given this evidence with Mark Lilla’s, and offering some comments on the similarities of belligerent language with the neocons (Strauss is of course much fiercer, they but a pale copy) at here.  So I do take this possibility seriously.  But John’s contextual distinction helps one to see that Strauss was a belligerent imperialist in America but not, in the idiom of realists, simply an “idealist” fool.

       It is unlikely, I think, that Strauss would have supported the Iraq war since conquering and refashioning the Middle East on the basis of fantasies about "democracy" - colonial rule at gun-point - is quixotic and has become increasingly self-destructive for the now economically collapsed U.S. One limitation: Cropsey, John’s friend and the carrier, for better or worse, of Strauss’s water at Chicago, as well as other politicos of the sect like Mansfield and at a further remove Wlliam Kristol, got the message, more or less in full, about the supposed goodness of a belligerent, theologically inspired, reactionary authoritarianism.  They worked to sustain it as the farce of the Bush-Cheney administration – Marx’s 18th Brumaire remark about history repeating itself, though Kaiser Bill and Mussolini have little tragic about them – and they brought American down.  John’s intuition about the “tragedy of offensive realism” works here; they strove over-weeningly to extend American power at gun-point over the Middle East.  America is now bogged down in two wars, and the economy has collapsed.  Who would have thought 9 years after the final moment of Clinton, when the US seemed on top of the world economically and militarily, that the “new American Century” would have come to this? 

         Even the hope of Obama is, as John has also said, transformed by the reactionary two-step of ordinary electoral politics - see here - and the war complex into the escalating of the hopeless American/European occupation of Afghanistan. See here.  Obama’s promise would have probably died with his making 5 counterproductive wars, even if he were somewhat bolder and had taken on big pharma/ “insurance” and the bizarre authoritarians of whom Leo is perhaps a distant political grandfather – not only Harvey Mansfield (a son so to speak) but the “gentlemen”: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, Representative Kantor, Senator Demint and Joe Lieberman.  Through his activities at the Public Affairs Center at Chicago, through minions like Robert Goldwin (special assistant to Rumsfeld, President Ford and Chief of Staff Cheney during the Ford administration) and “reasonable” advice to Percy, Leo breathed life into the golem.  If John is right, this experience illustrates the point that in politics, it is often wise to beware what one wishes for, to think very carefully, again, about what one initiates (that was the point of Socrates’s questioning and never offering full accounts of justice; it is an advantage of Martin Luther King’s nonviolence, that for all its debilities, he took the burden of a great challenge to the indecent way Americans lived on himself – and he knew he was fated to die young from Montgomery**).  I am not sure about necessities of human nature – but it is certainly darkness enough.

       But perhaps John identifies the German character of Strauss’s insights, though anti-liberal or more aptly, reactionary too closely with realism.  Strauss did get a fierce imperial realism from Weber and perhaps Carl Schmitt (the fascist legal scholar who became a Nazi Prussian State Councilor); about Jews, Strauss made it sharper.  Jews, he argued, needed to fight in the real world for a homeland; they needed to take advantage of inter-imperial rivalry and after World War I, offered a homeland by Balfour, needed to give something in return (see here). But this important contextual point about Strauss, veils another.  

       What does it mean to love and modify Heidegger and Nietzsche?  To be a man of the German Right, and in certain ways an inventor on the Right?  As John notes, Heinrich Meier rightly emphasizes that Strauss’s critique of Schmitt (Schmitt!) is from the Right: he makes more coherent and deeper Schmitt’s argument as a Reactionary.**

        As I discovered last year, the great change of horizon for which Schmitt and Strauss were waiting in 1932 was Hitler.  Abandoning a hard to shake prejudice of the current context   - “he is a German Jew in exile in America, after all; he may be a fascist, but he cannot have been – a sympathizer with the National Revolution”) and looking more deeply into Strauss’s correspondence and early writings (see here and here), it became clear that two American translators of Strauss’s letter had thought Strauss was dismissing Hitler as a  “meskine Unwesen” [a grubby nonentity or shabby abomination] when in fact, he was striking at modernity (with its meskine, with a racist inflection of Jewish or Shylock-usurious – nonentity).  H/t Michael Zank.  See here. 

        Once that became clear, Strauss’s peculiar Zionism, his attachment to a Mussolini-esque group led by Walter Moses  to establish a Germanic but made by German Jews Wandervogel settlement in Palestine amusingly followed (the German Wandervogel groups excluded Jews; Blau-Weiss was in no hurry to attract Ostjuden, separdhic Jews).  See here. And this was unexpected. Perhaps only Mel Brooks could have guessed at it (it has a “springtime for Hitler in Germany” flavor).   And when the colony collapsed abruptly, I could see how, as William Altman has emphasized, Strauss jumped from Mussolini-Zionism, into an affection for Nazism.  He repelled even Hannah Arendt here, a fellow Heideggerian and Zionist  (Heidegger’s once upon a time lover, Arendt’s admiration and affection for the unrepentant National Socialist was undiminished after World War II; the feud of Hannah and Leo lasted a lifetime). And how Strauss relinquished his admiration for the Nazis grudgingly – even in New York in 1939, he militaristically analogizes what he does in teaching to how the Panzers swept through Poland in a blitzkrieg, see here -  and then how he admired Churchill on a nihilist basis, as lord over nonwhite peoples and “magnaminous statesman” (read: beneficient tyrant).  He even differentiates the vulgar nihilism of Hitler from true nihilism here and recovers an interest in Heidegger in 1953 when Heidegger defends “true national socialism” against the defunct Hitler. 

       Strauss’s recognition of Churchill has a note of realism if not any tremendous insight into great power politics. For a Jew, it is quite understandable that he came to admire the power of Downing Street (see his 1934 letter from London to Kojeve) against Hitler.  What is surprising is how long it took.  But the surprises keep coming.  I have since discovered that Strauss viewed toleration or the separation of church and state as a realization of the last men – Peter Minowitz, author of Straussophobia, over weeks could not dig up a plausible example of Strauss himself defending or even tolerating this separation and still hasn’t [see here and here].  These facts suggest how distant Strauss is from the core ethic of liberalism.  In its place, he wanted a theologically-supported and brutal executive.  He also envisioned nuclear war as a possible answer to modernity: blowing man out of his current, unmanly, subhuman and miserable state, and permitting history, as if in a new “spring,” to unfold again.  See On Tyranny here.  This is lyrical if way crazy.  The idea of nuclear winter came after Strauss, but even its glimmerings were beyond him.

      Strauss has a sublime darkness compared to which the fantasies of Wolfowitz or Mansfield or perhaps Cropsey, let alone William Kristol, are pale stuff indeed.  The horrors of the influence of the latter in life, on making a bloodthirsty, Torquemadaesque caricature of America and bringing it down, are however far greater than Strauss’s (Strauss initiated the political sect, but the others have taken Strauss’s reaction and given it, as John emphasizes, a somewhat original and loony-tune if deadly American flavor:  Bush as the philosopher-tyrant or “the right man” (David Frum); the grim Cheney ready to take down opposition even in government. Within the Bush administration, Jack Goldsmith and Jim Comey had to invent a secret language to plan withdrawing the torture memos…****  These are specimens, via Strauss, of Plato’s one time dream of a philosopher-king. 

     Thus, John’s contextual point about Strauss’s defenders in America is right and can be put in a very sharp way.  The Zuckerts’ or Steven Smith’s view - Strauss became Strauss and an admirer of constitutional democracy, or “the best friend liberal democracy has ever had” – depends on not knowing what Strauss thought before and insisting ignorantly that it is not important [see APSA 2007 here]. All this material was kept out of the hands of most of Strauss’s students – some like Smith and Nathan Tarcov, of course, were, largely to mount a defense given the slow but steady drumbeat of material after 2000 emanating from the early writings, admitted to the Regenstein archives. 

      But Cropsey kept out non-Straussians like Stephen Holmes as early as the 1980s (when Steve was teaching at Chicago and working on his book, The Anatomy of Anti-Liberalism), because Strauss had “letters that might be misunderstood.”  Cropsey did not mean misunderstood, however, except in the context of exotericism or what Strauss and some Straussians were trying out as an appearance (in the case of some others, it is a reality; they really believe the surface stuff, like Fukuyama). Cropsey meant “understood.”  I have been amused to discover that Leo Strauss, a German Jew, favored the Nazis and kept on admiring them deep into the war, that his affection for Churchill, was a nihilist affection – see here, that he thought the age of the last men, of entertainment,  so damning and corrupt that he was willing to get rid of it by having it blown it up and returning – millions dead - to the stone age even though we, humans, for some reason, have to cycle through to the same dismal thing again (he never puzzled over how chancy primitive accumulation is in the last long chapter of the first volume of Capital, how tenuous this path is if one studies Marx – contra some of Marx’s slogans; he also resisted Arendt’s idea of political natality, of innovation – even though it names even his hopes for the “National Revolution”; here again, he doesn’t “think”). 

        Cropsey hid it all for years and only allowed Meier, the secretive devotee of Schmitt and Strauss, the man for arcane learning about two arcane men, and a reactionary, to publish the papers in German 27 years after Strauss died.  Thus one of Strauss’s most extreme letters hit the United States only after 2000, translated separately by Eugene Shepherd and Scott Horton; some of his early writings were made available by Michael Zank.  For the preceding era, any sense of who Strauss was  before he came to America, had been relentlessly masked by Cropsey, and of course by a chorus of American students, knowing the master late if at all, who do not want to believe that Leo was no fancier of America, but rather an enemy, on behalf of “natural right” (the right of the stronger) of individual or natural rights. (see Natural Right and History and here).

      I am grateful to John for sharing his discussions with Crospey about Strauss and Iraq.  It makes sense to me that Cropsey (and John) have the feeling that Strauss would have opposed this “liberal” (better imperial) social-engineering fantasy.  In the recent post on “Leo Strauss’s 1923 celebration of pagan-fascism” here, I comment on Strauss’s sharply realist defense of Herzl’s conduct, to get something for the Jews from the British empire, after World War I.  In power-politics, Strauss finally decided for Churchill and against Hitler.  He worried about trying to impose a liberal regime in Germany given the lack of affection for democracy of many Germans (perhaps only the division of Germany between the Soviets and the West, something not yet visible, something  which his 1942 comments necessarily underestimate – made this possible).  

      Strauss does seem to be quite often a keen realist (with a modified, though perhaps sometimes sharper Weberian bent, for instance about the creation of Israel), and not to be taken in by belligerent blowhards, even those who are his admirers.  He might even have been saddened by Cropsey’s defense of preemptive war – actually aggression - in Iraq.  The Times had a quote from Cropsey: if England could have preempted Hitler would not this have been a good thing?  It does not entertain the likely response, that Hitler could have mobilized the Germans to defend themselves against an English aggression more effectively than Saddam the Iraqis.  Further, perfectly ordinary means of war were available to Churchill and FDR to save hundreds of thousands of Jews and others. Yet they would not bomb the tracks to the camps largely out of catering to anti-semitism (in George Kennan’s words “it would make the war a partisan effort” – see Robert Schulzinger, The Making of the Diplomatic Mind).   Nonetheless, in that case, the answer to Cropsey’s question might be: yes.  But Saddam was no Hitler.  One imaginary case does not justify a thousand follies and crimes.

     Still Nathan and Michael Zuckert and Bill Galston (the Straussian Democrat - unsurprisingly, Strauss worked self-consciously with hawkish Democrats like Scoop Jackson and Daniel Moynihan as well as Republicans to get the sect into Washington, see here - did oppose the war and arguably with insights that Strauss might have shared. In contrast to the main line of criticism on Strauss as the mentor of the American aggression in Iraq,  I have emphasized Strauss’s impact in gradually forging authoritarian executive power with religious or theological support, and am, I think, the only scholar to have specified this central aspect of Strauss’s purposes (see my introduction to Strauss’s 1933 letter to Loewith, Constellations, March 2009 here). Once again, Strauss wanted a bellicose executive but not so foolish a one.*****

      But to qualify John’s point, many of Strauss’s stands – far distant from America and on the German way right - are crazier than even his political and neo-con devotees, and have little to do with great power realism  Strauss’s passionate and dark Reaction goes far beyond what Lawrence Lampert, whose work John rightly praises, conjures up. He created self-consciously a sect to make American government more tyrannical (“executive power”, “commander in chief” power) and imperial, and thus initiated the neo-con golem, even though as John said, he would probably have seen through its inflated Imperial silliness. 

        For Strauss’s other direct influence, we must turn sadly to Israel.  This is also mostly left out of current American controversies about Strauss’s impact.  Even John – who has criticized the lack of independence and irrationality (except for controlling oil in the Middle East, not a small matter) of American gung-ho support for “Greater Israel - doesn’t recognize how much Strauss’s dark German Jewish vision is connected to the murderous and self-destructive  “Greater Israel” Right.  Strauss was for an Israel of the Torah, of the “nearness of Biblical antiquity” (his 1957 letter to the National Review) transferring brutally, in Jabotinsky-like fashion, the Palestinians. 

            Strauss advocated the brutality of the creation of Israel, but might not – if he had listened to Aristotle or Montesquieu – supported the post-1967 occupation of the territories.  For here the Israeli government is bleeding, day by day, any claim to decency or respect from others away.  But there is no question that those who want greater Israel, the mad rabbis who want to commit genocide against the Canaanites, and justify in the Israeli army, any atrocity, even killing babies, have a vision very close – among others or “gentlemen” in Strauss’s idiom, non-philosophers – to what Strauss manipulatively, in this case appallingly, recommends.  See here and here. 

        I have emphasized that Strauss defended a belligerent  authoritarianism masked in theology; his supporters in Israel like Michael Kochin at Tel Aviv, who has written interestingly on Plato’s Laws and Maimonides, are part of the movement for "greater Israel."  Peculiarly, such creepy fascist “Zionist” politics have, I suspect, deep resonance in Strauss himself.  For a long time I thought Strauss, who marvelled at Al-Farabi and trained great Arab scholars like Charles Butterworth and Muhsin Mahdi, could have humanized Israel, fought for it as a strong power, to settle in the Middle East, to treat the Palestinians finally with decency.

       Instead, with zeal for Jabotinsky as Michael Zank has pointed out, Strauss recognized that there were Palestinians on the land Israel would occupy and that they would have to be transferred. As I have stressed, he had long sympathized with the German National Revolution until he finally figured out that it just wanted to murder Jews.  Again ironically, as a political matter separated from what he thought of as philosophy, he could easily turn this fascist bent, so murderously directed by others against Jews, at Palestinians and affirm the transfer. 

        In his letter to the National Review in 1957 fighting its anti-Jewish ideology (he insisted on opposing anti-Jewish racism, he did not like the term anti-semitism, because as Edward Said has rightly said and many Palestinians recognize, Orientalism is just an extension of European anti-semitism from Jews to Arabs, or really – for instance in Renan’s discussion of the alleged rigidity of Hebrew and Arabic - just the same lethal bigotry). Instead Strauss says cleverly that a conservative - he does not himself speak as a conservative - might like Israel because of the “nearness of biblical Antiquity.”  Strauss’s very affection for the story of Joshua and the slaughter of the Canaanites, his Zabotinskyan genocide, seems to fit very well on the Israeli Right.   It was Hannah Arendt, the Heideggerian and fellow Zionist, who rejected Strauss’s courtship in large part both because he was an odd Jewish sympathizer with the National Revolution and because in Israel, he didn’t want a bi-national state.

      Now the neo-cons want an Israel which is at war with the Middle East and makes it knuckle under at gun-point.  Feith, Perle and  Wurmser wrote the infamous “State of the Realm” for Netanyahu, suggesting this chest-thumping hubris.  Once again, only Mel Brooks might have invented such characters, though in reality, their bloodthirstiness is, sadly, the main point.  They then came to the U.S. to work for the powerful and crazed Cheney who took them up on it after 9/11. This distinctively Israeli expansionist contribution to American madness joins with Goldwin, Gary Schmitt, Wolfowitz, Kristol et al.  It shaped the imitative views of the Straussian neocons, but was not inspired directly by Strauss. 

         In addition, if the incompetence and zealotry – as well as immoral, illegal and wretched character - of these efforts is clear in the case of the US, why shouldn’t it be equally clear for Israel? On my argument, why couldn’t we consider Strauss a likely critic of both? Cheney got bogged down in Iraq, and strengthened Iran, as Obama underlined in the campaign.  Israel slaughtered ordinary Lebanese and got bogged down by Hisbollah in Lebanan.  Why are these slaughters not comparable to each other and equally unwise?  Why mightn’t Strauss have seen it this way?

    Let us follow this thought.  A puffed up Netanyahu may try to bomb Iran, flying through “Iraqi” airspace patrolled illegally by the US throughout the Saddam period and perhaps even now (I don’t know if the now quiescent UN has authorized American over-flights or bombing). He could thus implicate Obama and the American war complex further in these mad and self-destructive enterprises. Once again, as John suggests, Strauss might very likely be critical of this.

       The part of Israeli crimes, however, that Strauss prefigures is the genocidal engagement in Gaza.  Strauss might have figured out that the life of Israel as a Jewish enterprise – an apartheid state but, for some, a parliamentary regime of a kind –  depends on not trying, after the death of apartheid in South Africa and of colonialism, to wipe out the Palestinians, just as blacks were brutalized under apartheid, or indigenous people murdered by the United States' government , or Jews, Slavs and Roma by the Nazis.   Every day that settlers, who are given a free hand, burn olive groves, deface mosques, or gun down ordinary Palestinians, they harden decent opposition and make the survival of Israel as a Jewish state less and less likely.  Strauss would have been wise to oppose this.

         But as I underlined, the genocidal murderousness of the rabbi toward gentile babies informed much of the Israeli army in Gaza (I hesitate to speak of them as soldiers; as the Israeli soldiers who spoke out in Breaking the Silence reveal, they are more like the Christian Blackwater on steroids). See the article from the Independent below about how according to a commander, Israel chose to murder any Palestinian who moved, often civilians.  These actions are just Jabotinsky, and just the Leo Strauss of the 1920s. He might have admired the grotesque spirit of the settlers, their nearness to Joshua’s butchery of the Canaanites, their genocidal repetition against the heathens, their Biblical madness.  I agree with John that the neo-cons, warmongering phonies (these are not soldiers, unlike Strauss in World War I) and bigots, willing to use Evangelicism, get some of Strauss’s reactionary politics, but not his realist insights (once again, they also miss his sublime madness).  But without becoming locked in conflict with Iran, that the settlers and a fascist army might, invoking the Torah, expand “greater Israel” and murder or push out the Palestinians is a likely avatar of Strauss’s “pagan-fascist” Zionism of 1923. This would but resemble Harvey Mansfield’s favorite homily in which sarcastically, he promises to reconsider “prayerfully,” US aggression which seized a great part of Mexico in 1846-48 (see his Wall Street Journal 2007 op-ed here). Harvey is more grotesque here than Leo about Israel – Leo was fighting to bring the Jews into reality as an antidote to European anti-semitism here – whereas Harvey is just posturing as an imperial American thug.  But of course, Leo also admired the National Revolution…

    In Israel, this vision is also a crime against the physical and moral security of each ordinary Israeli.  It might provoke renewed and over time, quite possibly final war (for an Israeli leadership that might not survive and take others with it; after bombing Iran and even, possibly initiating nuclear war, the concatenations of radiation and further war over time, might kill all of us).  Settler and government brutality against the Palestinians provoke justified international revulsion at the regime – even among Zionists like the famous South African Judge Richard Goldstone - and isolation. 

     Consider Hilary Putnam’s criterion that we can know a war is unjust when informed public opinion in other decent regimes sees that war as corrupt – see here and here.  Israel’s stunning isolation, its denunciation of every one else (even Obama, the continuing weaponizer of Israel as well as  Richard Goldstone!), its vain hope that everyone like the empty Bush and crazy Cheney will come around to Israeli madness and criminality (collective punishment for example) – all of this tragically illustrates Hilary’s point. Phillip Weiss has a piece on a bizarre Israeli advisor on the hasbara (propaganda) made by Israel of its rescue work in Haiti here.  No longer is a good deed possible in the current Israeli elite from the heart.  In the politically corrupt, even the decent is bent.

     As an outlier, these Israeli and American crimes (every helicopter used in the Gaza slaughter was an Apache) motivated the Jordanian doctor who had worked for the CIA against Al-Qaida to blow up a CIA-Blackwater (Xe) Corporation team in Afghanistan. See Greenwald here.  Exemplifying the predictions of Osama bin Laden, the CIA has since gone ballistic because it can, firing drone missiles at targets in Pakistan twice as often (one a week). Technological terror supplants thought (except for nuclear weapons, the US does what it has weapons to do). Since the doctor killed those who supposedly knew something, the chances that the US government has murdered more civilians and made more long-lasting enemies for the Pakistani democracy and the United States is a lot higher than that these missiles have produced any good results, even supposing they also, as “collateral damage” get some Al Qaida leaders (as Tom Lehrer once put it: “as long as it goes up, who cares where it comes down, that’s not my department, says Werner von Braun”). 

          A story earlier this week suggests that the US may have gotten a second Mehsud brother (the successor leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who sent out a film of himself with the Jordanian suicide-doctor).  But in the rumor mill of the American press, this story has disappeared.  Whether this “report” turns out to be true or not – the hype standardly printed in the commercial media often turns out to be mere propaganda to justify American aggression -  the US is certainly capable of targeting and killing, among others, some of its enemies.  In his state of the Union address, Obama mentioned killing more Al-Qaida leaders in 2009 by far than Bush killed in 2008. Who else died?

       Frighteningly, Israel and the United States may be swept up in largely destroying the world through war. Once again Obama is the unlikely American leader who knows better and feels – I think wrongly and self-destructively - that he must bow to the war complex or perhaps even with hubris, that he is being, in some calculated way, lethal.  In Mel Brooks’ “History of the World,” the piss-boy who substitutes for Louis XVI muses “it is good to be king.”  More importantly, it is dangerous to be President. 

       Alternately, over time, Israeli apartheid (named yesterday even by War Minister Ehud Barak), brutal as it will be, will not survive civil disobedience and international pressure.  A civilized bi-national state, with the protection of the equal rights of each citizen, might emerge.  And Zionists a la Strauss, those who want a fascist or genocidal Israel of the Torah – Joshua slew every Canaanite woman and child, sparing only the house of  Rahab who had helped his spies and hung down a red rope, - have earned many times over their defeat by those of us who value all human beings, all children.****** 

*As a pro-Klan figure, an “Aryan” admirer of German democracy, and a fierce belligerent against the Republic in Haiti and to grab oil in Mexico, Woodrow Wilson is a lot less high-minded figure than the elevated realist stereotype makes him out to be – see here

**The first assassination attempts were in Montgomery and he told Coretta that he doubted he would reach the age of 40.

***Meier observes this while having written an essay on how Strauss became Strauss in Svetozar Minkov, ed., Enlightening Revolutions which is a masterpiece of obfuscation or exoterica worth reading aloud pp. 366-67. Strauss’s “Reflections” are not, in this case, cryptic about the likely transformation of Germany.  The general point about “Strauss becoming Strauss” is a banal scholarly one – he probably emphasizes the Greeks and surface/hidden writing more later on.  But Meier is aware, more darkly, that Strauss had to seem to leave his obvious politics – sympathetic to the National Revolution - behind.  With the post-2000 translation of the May 19, 1933 letter to Loewith and his remarks on Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political (see my Enmity and Tyranny, forthcoming, Sanford Levinson and Melissa Williams, eds., Conservatism, Nomos, 2010), this point may now seem glaring.  But the question remains: how much of these subsequently esoteric politics did Strauss eventually shed?

****See Jane Mayer, The Dark Side.

*****Determined belligerence rarely comes to a good end.  Even the formidable thousand year Reich went down after 12.  Strauss offers the far goofier (as thought) and horrific image of nuclear extinction than even the harebrained Wolfowitz and Kristol decorating the madness of Cheney.

******for more on the accuracy of the Goldstone report and the slipperiness of the Israeli government’s hasbara (propaganda), see Mondoweiss here and Magnes Zionist here.


Published on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 by The Independent/UK

Israeli Commander: 'We Rewrote the Rules of War for Gaza'

Civilians 'put at greater risk to save military lives' in winter attack - revelations that will pile pressure on Netanyahu to set up full inquiry

by Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

A high-ranking officer has acknowledged for the first time that the Israeli army went beyond its previous rules of engagement on the protection of civilian lives in order to minimise military casualties during last year's Gaza war, The Independent can reveal.


An Israeli soldier directs a tank outside the Gaza Strip in December 2008. (REUTERS)

The officer, who served as a commander during Operation Cast Lead, made it clear that he did not regard the longstanding principle of military conduct known as "means and intentions" - whereby a targeted suspect must have a weapon and show signs of intending to use it before being fired upon - as being applicable before calling in fire from drones and helicopters in Gaza last winter. A more junior officer who served at a brigade headquarters during the operation described the new policy - devised in part to avoid the heavy military casualties of the 2006 Lebanon war - as one of "literally zero risk to the soldiers".

The officers' revelations will pile more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to set up an independent inquiry into the war, as demanded in the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report, which harshly criticised the conduct of both Israel and Hamas. One of Israel's most prominent human rights lawyers, Michael Sfard, said last night that the senior commander's acknowledgement - if accurate - was "a smoking gun".

Until now, the testimony has been kept out of the public domain. The senior commander told a journalist compiling a lengthy report for Yedhiot Ahronot, Israel's biggest daily newspaper, about the rules of engagement in the three-week military offensive in Gaza. But although the article was completed and ready for publication five months ago, it has still not appeared. The senior commander told Yedhiot: "Means and intentions is a definition that suits an arrest operation in the Judaea and Samaria [West Bank] area... We need to be very careful because the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] was already burnt in the second Lebanon war from the wrong terminology. The concept of means and intentions is taken from different circumstances. Here [in Cast Lead] we were not talking about another regular counter-terrorist operation. There is a clear difference."

His remarks reinforce testimonies from soldiers who served in the Gaza operation, made to the veterans' group Breaking the Silence and reported exclusively by this newspaper last July. They also appear to cut across the military doctrine - enunciated most recently in public by one of the authors of the IDF's own code of ethics - that it is the duty of soldiers to run risks to themselves in order to preserve civilian lives.

Explaining what he saw as the dilemma for forces operating in areas that were supposedly cleared of civilians, the senior commander said: "Whoever is left in the neighbourhood and wants to action an IED [improvised explosive device] against the soldiers doesn't have to walk with a Kalashnikov or a weapon. A person like that can walk around like any other civilian; he sees the IDF forces, calls someone who would operate the terrible death explosive and five of our soldiers explode in the air. We could not wait until this IED is activated against us."

Another soldier who worked in one of the brigade's war-room headquarters told The Independent that conduct in Gaza - particularly by aerial forces and in areas where civilians had been urged to leave by leaflets - had "taken the targeted killing idea and turned it on its head". Instead of using intelligence to identify a terrorist, he said, "here you do the opposite: first you take him down, then you look into it."

The Yedhiot newspaper also spoke to a series of soldiers who had served in Operation Cast Lead in sensitive positions. While the soldiers rejected the main finding of the Goldstone Report - that the Israeli military had deliberately "targeted" the civilian population - most asserted that the rules were flexible enough to allow a policy under which, in the words of one soldier "any movement must entail gunfire. No one's supposed to be there." He added that at a meeting with his brigade commander and others it was made clear that "if you see any signs of movement at all you shoot. This is essentially the rules of engagement."

The other soldier in the war-room explained: "This doesn't mean that you need to disrespect the lives of Palestinians but our first priority is the lives of our soldiers. That's not something you're going to compromise on. In all my years in the military, I never heard that."

He added that the majority of casualties were caused in his brigade area by aerial firing, including from unmanned drones. "Most of the guys taken down were taken down by order of headquarters. The number of enemy killed by HQ-operated remote ... compared to enemy killed by soldiers on the ground had absolutely inverted," he said.

Rules of engagement issued to soldiers serving in the West Bank as recently as July 2006 make it clear that shooting towards even an armed person will take place only if there is intelligence that he intends to act against Israeli forces or if he poses an immediate threat to soldiers or others.

In a recent article in New Republic, Moshe Halbertal, a philosophy professor at Hebrew and New York Universities, who was involved in drawing up the IDF's ethical code in 2000 and who is critical of the Goldstone Report, said that efforts to spare civilian life "must include the expectation that soldiers assume some risk to their own lives in order to avoid causing the deaths of civilians". While the choices for commanders were often extremely difficult and while he did not think the expectation was demanded by international law, "it is demanded in Israel's military code and this has always been its tradition".

The Israeli military declined to comment on the latest revelations, and directed all enquiries to already-published material, including a July 2009 foreign ministry document The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects.

That document, which repeats that Israel acted in conformity with international law despite the "acute dilemmas" posed by Hamas's operations within civilian areas, sets out the principles of Operation Cast Lead as follows: "Only military targets shall be attacked; Any attack against civilian objectives shall be prohibited. A 'civilian objective' is any objective which is not a military target." It adds: "In case of doubt, the forces are obliged to regard an object as civilian."

Yedhiot has not commented on why its article has not been published.

Israel in Gaza: The soldier's tale

This experienced soldier, who cannot be named, served in the war room of a brigade during Operation Cast Lead. Here, he recalls an incident he witnessed during last winter's three-week offensive:

"Two [Palestinian] guys are walking down the street. They pass a mosque and you see a gathering of women and children.

"You saw them exiting the house and [they] are not walking together but one behind the other. So you begin to fantasise they are actually ducking close to the wall.

"One [man] began to run at some point, must have heard the chopper. The GSS [secret service] argued that the mere fact that he heard it implicated him, because a normal civilian would not have realised that he was now being hunted.

"Finally he was shot. He was not shot next to the mosque. It's obvious that shots are not taken at a gathering."

© 2010 The Independent

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