Men of the West

Babatim at Free Range International has a new update from the ground in Afghanistan. One quote struck me; either for the truth it holds or its stunning audacity (probably a little of both):

Less experience[d] cadres will do one of three things; stay in place because they are too freaked out to move, break contact and run because they are too freaked out to stay, or quickly surrender because they are too freaked out to fight.  Afghans do not have a cultural history of standing firm in battle and slugging it out toe to toe with heavy infantry.  Only men of the west fight using that style of warfare which is why western armies have dominated those of other lands since the battle of Plataea in 479 B.C.  I am not saying the Afghan Taliban does not have brave fighters….they do but brave individual fighters do not a cohesive combat unit make.  The shock of rapid violent assault by multiple platoons from multiple angles is something only a well trained, well equipped, well supported western army can handle.  [emphasis mine]

This, of course, is the same thesis of Victor Davis Hanson’s Culture and Carnage (later retitled more directly as Why the West Has Won) – that the west has a superior, innate ability to win the kinds of battles that shape the entire world. There are two sides to this – execution and will – and while the west has proved itself quite adept at winning (even so, not always), its will to fight in the first place seems diminished and continues to shrink.

The metaphors and parallels you could draw are all contradictory and point in very different directions: the U.S. as Rome to Britain’s Greece, the Greek bankruptcy, 300, a rousing speech from Aragorn, John Ford/John Wayne movies… Perhaps that’s just my train of thought leaving the station at full steam.

But what if the west starts abdicating its position, and what if it continues to cringe in the face of particular struggles? Western society is so risk-averse now that the slightest risk of harm – to regular, professional soldiers – now leads to accusations of “authoritarian” leadership. For heading into danger in the military! Thankfully the Dutch example is not pervasive throughout NATO (nor the Netherlands themselves, for that matter).

The Dutch have the 7th highest per capita rate of any nation in Afghanistan, Steve Coll calculated. But 21 dead is now enough to call off an entire deployment of a wealthy, western NATO member. Europe is certainly in decline. America too, albeit at a slower pace. But that’s just when the Netherlands needs to reassert itself as a full and willing member of the west. As does the rest of Europe. All need to be willing to defend themselves and their interests, with force if necessary.

Stand, men of the west!

Transatlanticism

Daniel Korski’s new article in Foreign Policy, “Partners in Decline,” calls for a renewed US-European relationship, as a way of staving off marginalization at least for a while. It’s kind of hard to discern his point – clearly at this point, Europe needs the US far more than the US needs Europe. True, NATO is a force of legitimacy right now, but if the demographic trends Korski points to as signs of decline continue, won’t it begin to lose that legitimacy as it becomes less and less representative of any significant proportion of global population?

Korski also misinterprets history. He asks us to

Imagine if the United States had in the past chosen its allies exclusively on whether they were willing to fight alongside the 82nd Airborne. That would have meant abandoning an alliance with Britain in 1966 after then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson refused to send British troops to the Vietnam War.

Is there some sort of treaty or piece of paper we would have torn up? Aside from the (predominantly cultural) Special Relationship – which certainly was damaged for most of the 70s until the Reagan-Thatcher revival – Britain’s refusal to commit troops to Vietnam was no more than a disagreement between longtime global partners. There was no real ‘alliance’ to end as a response but even that informal alliance was seriously damaged.

I wouldn’t go so far as to advocate an American withdrawal from NATO (as Andrew Bacevich does), but at the same time it is perhaps on an even steeper path to irrelevancy than Europe and the United States themselves. Korski’s argument is in itself contradictory, as his prescription for waning influence just reemphasizes the extent of Western decline. And like all other nation-states, it is an inevitable collapse.

An Island Apart

Muslims protest Geert Wilders' appearance before Parliament, October 2009.

Something’s gotta give. No, seriously. Finally backlash seems to be mounting against the British government’s tolerance for extremist organizations (provided, of course, that they are Muslim). The trend is especially present in universities, however, where the constant mantra of “free speech” has somehow blocked out all voices, such as the BNP and others, with the sole exception of any Islamic or Muslim society.

The Christmas Pants Bomber has prompted a new bout of soul-searching as the west attempts to decipher the source of radicalization. Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka perhaps made the loudest and boldest claim, laying blame on Britain (“a cesspit“) – and not Nigeria – for the pants bomber’s radicalization.

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On the Purpose of Armies

Via War is Boring:

In September 2008 two Dutch army squad leaders and their soldiers refused to go out on what Radio Netherlands describes as “a risky reconnaissance patrol” in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. The platoon leader responsible for the mission was allegedly guilty of  “excessively authoritarian behavior.” “[H]e was prepared to accept fatalities on the patrol,” Radio Netherlands reports.

On the surface, this is clearly ridiculous. Deeper down, it actually stays pretty ridiculous, but nevertheless there’s an argument to be made here. I’m not going to make it, but without conscription (as is the case in Holland), the point is moot.

I know, I know – I sound precisely like a member of the “101st Chairborne.” Then again, I haven’t joined the armed forces. My point is that if you sign up for a military willingly – and I emphasize willingly – you should be equally prepared to accept the risks inherent to combat. There’s a different between a ‘risky’ mission and one that’s ‘suicidal’, and according to the reports I’ve seen, this is a clear case of the former. It’s a warzone. There are enemies out there. And that’s why you’re there.

The worst part is the assumption of universality. The squad leaders “are worried for other soldiers who may have to serve with him in the future.” One can only hope that other soldiers take themselves more seriously. And professionally. I’m trying really hard to refrain from using this to condemn the European fighting spirit in toto, but it’s certainly one more nail in the coffin of a confident, vigorous West.

The London School of Embarrassment

Once again, the London School of Economics continues to embarrass itself and its reputation with an unequivocal defense of Reza Pankhurst. The Islamic Society and countless others have sprung to his defense, and Pankhurst himself has denounced the “McCarthyite witch-hunt” of recent disclosures of his membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. However, the only reason the story broke in the national press was because the LSE Islamic Society failed to address the concerns of some members over Pankhurst’s affiliations.

Those few students who have bothered to criticize the school for its recent failings have been dismissed as “pro-Israeli loons” and “morally blinkered propagandists.” I know at least one has received a number of threats from those who disagree with him. Whatever happened to respectful debate? There is nothing ‘illogical’ with concerns over an academic institution lending a member of an extreme organization a platform and respectability, especially when the individual holds private indoctrination sessions with selected groups of students.

The mind reels on a number of levels, but I’ll try to categorize my thoughts in a fairly logical order.

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Military Orientalism: A Review

Patrick Porter’s Military Orientalism provides an excellent analysis of the recent culturally-focused bent within western military thinking. “It is not a question of whether culture matters,” writes Porter, “but how it matters, and how to conceptualise [sic] it.” This is expressed through several case studies: British perceptions and accounts of the Russo-Japanese War, interwar military thinking and the “lessons” of Ghengis Khan (particularly as expressed by Basil Liddell Hart), the United States and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and finally Israel’s experience in the 2006 Lebanon War.

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