Historical parallels don’t converge

Newspapers are bulging and airwaves exploding with pacifist shrieks about the assassination of Gen Soleimani.

President Trump assassinates Gen Soleimani

These are emanating from assorted leftists, with Peter Hitchens adding his ex-leftist voice to the discordant choir (my lifelong conviction is that no leftist is ever truly ex, but we shan’t go into that).

The leitmotif revolves around apocalyptic predictions, typically based on parallels drawn with the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian terrorist.

However, President Trump isn’t exactly Gavrilo Princip, Gen Soleimani was certainly no Archduke and, most important, today’s hybrid warfare is a far cry from conflicts of 100 years ago.

Regular armies and their high-yield weapons are these days used mainly for blackmail purposes, a sort of sword of Damocles hanging overhead but never quite falling. The frontline troops are terrorists with their bombs, hackers with their computers, propagandists with their media, journalists either bribed or seduced into doing the dirty work.

The long-term aim is to paralyse the West’s will to defend itself, creating a climate of scary uncertainty, and pushing the West towards appeasement.

The Middle East is the hottest flashpoint at present, and there the terrorist arm of hybrid war is swinging within a wide amplitude. Muslim states and their proxies use the region as both the target for terrorism and its home base.  

At present, Iran is the principal Islamic perpetrator of anti-Western jihad, an effort that was led by Gen Soleimani. Yet ‘principal’ doesn’t mean the only one, far from it.

The role of Saudi Arabia in financing and harbouring terrorists is well-known, if not widely publicised for realpolitik reasons. Remarkably little has, for example, been made of the Saudi origin of most of the 9/11 terrorists, not to mention their leader Osama bin-Laden.

However, quite apart from its economic importance, Sunni Saudi Arabia is seen as a counterweight to the Shi’ite power of Iran. Moreover, the Saudis have no discernible ambition to develop nuclear weapons and use them against Israel, the only reliable ally of the West in the region.

Gen Soleimani was an infinitely more powerful version of Osama. Unlike the latter, he had committed to his operations the full resources of a major state, including its army of over 500,000. Moreover, he effectively had under his command a whole raft of terrorist organisations, including Hezbollah and Hamas.

His efforts have taken hundreds of thousands of lives, including thousands of Western lives that tend to be valued rather more highly by their countries than Muslim ones are by theirs.

All told, as we look at the late Gen Soleimani, he typologically begins to resemble Osama more and more and Archduke Ferdinand less and less. Nor will the consequences of his assassination be as dire.

The United States and its allies enjoy a prohibitive military superiority over the Muslim world in general and Iran in particular. This would count for nothing in the absence of the will to use force in defence of Western interests. However, President Trump’s action and his subsequent threat to destroy 52 important sites in Iran show a hardening of will, which is encouraging.

That’s why I suspect that Iran’s retaliatory response will be largely symbolic. The ayatollahs probably realise that the devastation Nato could wreak may lead to a popular revolt against their power.

To his credit, Peter Hitchens doesn’t look for parallels in such a distant past. To his discredit, those he does draw range from spurious to intellectually irresponsible to deranged.

He opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as did I. That action, I believe, was taken for frivolous reasons. Some of them were emotive, a we-must-do-something reaction to the 9/11 outrage. Others were simply unsound, such as the foolhardy hope to bring American-style democracy to every tribal society in the world.

That action was wrong, but this doesn’t mean that no action was called for. My contention was then and still remains that it should have been purely punitive, with democracy never even coming up, and no nation-building dangled as an achievable end.

The United States and its allies have the wherewithal to cause catastrophic damage to terrorist states without risking Western lives. The damage could be economic and, as President Trump indicated, also cultural. I don’t know if he has Iran’s holy city of Qom in his crosshairs, but that’s a possibility.

The alternative to that is giving Muslim terrorism a free hand not only in the Middle East but also around the world. Any sane person ought to have realised by now that bloodstained regimes see any attempt to appease them as a sign of weakness. And weaknesses are to be pounced on, any bully knows that.  

Hence only three responses to Muslim terrorism are possible: remote-control devastation, boots on the ground (and hence bodies in the ground) – and none. The assassination of Gen Soleimani shows that President Trump is wisely opting for the first one.

Since Mr Hitchens is offering no alternative, one has to assume he’d prefer the ‘none’ option. That way he re-establishes the temporarily lost common ground with his erstwhile comrades, which is his prerogative. Call of the heart and all that.

Yet he also has a public persona, which should have given him some sense of responsibility. Alas, all he can manage is calling the US action “bloody stupid” – this, without even hinting at a bloody clever alternative.

The old leftist canard of moral equivalence also sees the light of day. “Can you begin to imagine the justified rage in the USA if a senior American general were shot dead on the steps of the Pentagon by an Iranian hit team?” asks Mr Hitchens rhetorically. “Yet what, in the end, would be the moral difference between the two acts?”

That’s one of those questions that, if asked, can’t be answered this side of a lunatic asylum. Yet I’ll try.

The moral difference is that Gen Soleimani threatened and took the lives of Westerners and their allies, waging a perfidious hybrid war on the West and fomenting a potential for global conflagration.

The hypothetical US general, on the other hand, would have devoted his life to protecting the West – well, us – from the likes of Gen Soleimani. To say that there’s no moral difference between the two is to see no moral difference between friend and foe, which betokens moral idiocy.

Yet Mr Hitchens doesn’t limit himself to the moral kind. Intellectual idiocy is also on offer: “We see it [the same continuing disaster] in Ukraine, where American and EU aggression finally came up against hard resistance.”

So, by invading the Ukraine, Putin offered “hard resistance” to “American and EU aggression”. Even as we speak, I’m feverishly and in vain looking for reports of US armour sweeping eastwards along the old Smolensk road.

To Mr Hitchens any thwarting of Russia’s imperial expansion clearly constitutes ipso facto aggression, even if this is done by strictly peaceful means. This view of the world is peculiar to either insane ideologues or Russia’s paid agents of influence, and I’ll leave you to decide which group Mr Hitchens belongs to.       

“A US President can now start a war, if he picks his enemy carefully, without needing to fear a nuclear exchange,” further laments my favourite pundit. Would he prefer a situation where such a fear is imminent? Wouldn’t put it past him.

“These are crazy times,” concludes Mt Hitchens. They are. And made even crazier by the likes of him.

Well spoken, Mr President

One drone missile killed Gen Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s al-Quds force and effectively the country’s second-in-command, and Aby Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of the Iraqi mujahedeen.

Iran has been told

Another blew up the car carrying their bodyguards, which strikes me as somewhat redundant, considering they no longer had any bodies to guard.

By issuing the order for the action, President Trump showed his polyglot credentials: he can speak to evil regimes in the only language they understand. Surprisingly, no disclaimer about Islam being a religion of peace has yet been issued, though it may be forthcoming.

Gen Soleimani was the mastermind behind all of Iran’s terrorist and military activities in the region, including deadly attacks on US personnel and, of course, Israel. The button for every rocket fired on Israel by Hezbollah was effectively pushed by Iran or, until yesterday, Gen Soleimani personally.

The name of the elite force he led, Quds, means ‘Jerusalem’ in Farsi, which sort of gives the game away. The good general expected his jihad to end in Jerusalem, with all of Israel annihilated en route.

The current upheaval in the Middle East threatens world peace, and the situation is largely the fault of the US and its allies. But President Trump isn’t to blame: he inherited the mess and has to deal with it as best he can.

The mess was created by American foreign policy naivety, springing from her worshipping at the altar of Democracy (always implicitly capitalised). Having assumed the role of the Leader of the Free World after 1945, the US decided that part of its remit was to proselytise and enforce Democracy worldwide.

Foreign rulers who fell short of the exacting American standards were all lumped together: none of them was deemed worth America’s benevolence, regardless of the actual geopolitical situation in the region.

Hence the US at least acquiesced in the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and might even have actively promoted it. The Shah was an undemocratic tyrant, so good riddance.

American governments simply refused to acknowledge some home truths, the primary one being that Islam is an implacable enemy of the West, and has been for 1,400 years.

Aggressive anti-Western passions have always bubbled just under the surface, producing earthquakes whenever the power balance between Islam and the West shifted towards the former. Hence the only sensible policy for the West to follow is one that keeps those passions in check, preventing violent outbursts.

Ideally, this desideratum should be achieved without committing Western forces. Instead, American and generally Western interests lie in supporting relatively secular rulers in the region, those who themselves have a vested interest in keeping a lid on Muslim fanaticism.

Such leaders have to be despotic because Islam has no tradition of democracy, nor any cultural, philosophical or social predisposition for it. Thus people like the Shah, Saddam, Gaddafi (in his later life), Mubarak and Assad were a godsend to the US.

Alas, because they were indisputably vile and unapologetically undemocratic, Americans saw them more as the devil’s spawn. Assad is still hanging on by the skin of his teeth, but the other tyrants have been ousted by the US and its allies, either directly or indirectly.

That had the effect of uncapping a well of violence, and it gushed out. The last act of folly was committed in 2003, when America set out to convert Iraq into a Middle Eastern answer to Idaho. We all know how that turned out.

Yet that milk has been spilled, and there’s no crying over it nor trying to lap it up. Islam, under Iran’s leadership, has been energised and impassioned, ready to threaten Western interests not only in the region but around the world.

The recent joint naval exercises involving Iran and two other evil regimes, Russia and China, show that the conflict brewing in the Middle East may overrun the local borders. And, if history has taught us anything (which it probably hasn’t, but that’s a different subject), the West can’t negotiate its way out of trouble with evil regimes.

Only two paths are open: abject surrender preceded by appeasement or a show – potentially use – of overwhelming force. In dealing with Iran, President Trump yesterday communicated his preference for the second stratagem, which is both more moral and more effective.

Evil rulers must be made to understand that an aggressive stance against the West may endanger not only their subjects’ lives (about which they care little), but also their own.

The time of combat chivalry is long since passed, and modern wars aren’t conducted on erstwhile noble codes. Thus, during the Battle of Waterloo, an artillery officer told Wellington that he had a clear shot at Napoleon and was ready to fire. Wellington replied: “No! I’ll not allow it. It is not the business of commanders to be firing upon one another.”

Now it is, and those fomenting violence in the Middle East were reminded of this paradigm shift yesterday.

The West enjoys a military superiority over Iran, and this must be brought to bear. The only way to do so is by demonstrating the existence of a political will, without which the military muscle is in effect atrophied.

Time will tell if Iran and other evil regimes have got the message and will be deterred from escalation. If they aren’t, the next step has to be of apocalyptic proportions and lightning speed. Shilly-shallying is deadly when the other side is baying for your blood.

A combination of stern resolve, strategic brain and military brawn is required to deal with enemies who are ready to pounce on any weakness. It’s in such situations that Americans, along with the rest of us, should be grateful that the White House is inhabited by Donald Trump, not by Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.

One can only hope that the president will also find a way of dealing with the evil regimes allied with Iran. They too must be made to realise that the West can only be pushed so far, but drone strikes won’t work there.

Some two centuries before the birth of Islam, the proper strategy was formulated by Vegetius in his tract De Re Militari: “Si vis pacem, para bellum”.

Translated into English, this means Nato countries must heavily invest in the military – and be prepared to use it. That way they may not have to.

P.S. Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed its indignation over the US action, referring to Soleimani as “a patriot of Iran who loyally served the country’s national interests”. In particular, the general was the driving force behind drawing Russia into the Syrian war. Whether this served Iran’s national interests remains to be seen.

Have a Greta year

The other day I suggested that successful ads tell us more about the audience than about the products advertised.

“Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer, all power to the Soviets and save the planet!”

Exactly the same can be said about political messages, though their ability to turn individuals into a herd is more sinister. Advertising changes the way we buy; politics, the way we live.

Perhaps I’m using the word ‘individuals’ too loosely. How many people actually are, in the fullest sense of the word? How many are impervious to the effects of mass propaganda? How many have the will and ability to make up their own minds, and damn the torpedoes?

I don’t know. But, on the available evidence, not many. Just observe how easily the same throngs who in their daily lives try to keep up with the Joneses are swayed to keep up with the Lenins, Hitlers – or for that matter Thunbergs.

Once the head count has reached some critical mass, previously normal people trade their old certitudes for new. Yesterday’s truths become today’s lies and vice versa; yesterday’s insanity turns into today’s orthodoxy.

What kind of leaders are capable of producing such a response? Looking at the people mentioned above, they are variously intelligent (in a descending order, as listed), but none is an intellectual giant. They don’t have to be because they appeal not to reason but to some other faculties.

Hence it’s irrelevant that Lenin and Hitler were considerably cleverer than Greta. That poor Swedish girl proves that intelligence doesn’t even come into it when the task is to create mass psychosis.

Then what does? To answer that question, we have to identify the X-factor shared by all mass demagogues, the area in which they all converge. There exists only one that I can see: the truly demonic energy they all exude, which itself is produced by a mental imbalance.

I’m trying to avoid the trap of claiming that those we don’t like, say Lenin and Hitler, are insane. They were, but not necessarily in the clinical sense of the word.

They were capable of perfectly rational behaviour in pursuit of their insane goals, and neither of them was out of touch with reality. Their goals were indeed insane, but these were presented in a seemingly sensible package.

Both men suffered from hysteria and acute neuroses aggravated by physical defects, neurosyphilis in Lenin’s case, genital deformity and consequences of war trauma in Hitler’s, but neither of them was what we’d call certifiable. They weren’t schizophrenics or any other kind of madmen; they were possessed.

And whatever, or whoever, it was that possessed them acted like water or gas injected into a dying oil well. That process increases the flagging pressure in the formation, and the pressure pushes the oil up, turning a trickle into a gusher.

The energy exuded by successful demagogues raises the pressure in the formation of philistine torpor, pushing to the surface hysterical emotions unsullied by serious thought. Others might have communicated similar messages before, and the masses thought they had a point. But those same messages didn’t produce the same effect.

That’s akin to the difference between the two great orators of antiquity, Cicero and Demosthenes. It was said that when Cicero spoke, people exclaimed, “Great speech!”, but when Demosthenes spoke, they shouted, “Let’s march!”

Cicero was the greater thinker. But Demosthenes possessed that X-factor and Cicero didn’t.

Greta Thunberg, while no match for Lenin and Hitler in evil, has it in spades. She too has injected demonic energy into the Zeitgeist, forcing it bubbling to the surface.

Greta didn’t invent the climate hoax any more than Lenin invented communism or Hitler nationalism. The Zeitgeist was there, like a bear hibernating in its den. Greta just poked it with a stick, waking it up.

The girl suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and also bipolar disorder. At one pole, she experiences acute depression, to a point where she refuses food and is unable to attend school. At the other, she perks up to become a hysterical creature screaming incoherent messages with diabolical venom.

The masses respond – not so much to the content of the message as the energy with which it’s delivered. Greta is so unbalanced herself that she turns previously normal adults into lemmings following her to the precipice.

She is a typological equivalent of the Russian holy fool, Muslim dervish or African shaman. Like them, she goes into a convulsive ritual dance, complete with shrieks, body gyrations and spraying spittle. Like them, she replaces the masses’ will with her own.

What she’s calling for is the destruction of Western civilisation, not just its economic aspect. Her message is remarkably similar to the invective spouted in the past by Lenin and Hitler.

She too screams of the evil few destroying the future of the many. She too paints a picture of an apocalypse, only to be averted by the masses closing ranks and marching to what they can’t quite identify as the precipice.

I’m trying to make sense of the Greta subset of the hysterical socialism phenomenon, and I don’t know whether I’m succeeding. But there has to be an explanation for the seemingly inexplicable effect she has on the masses, including those that sit in parliaments and governments.

Rather than having Greta committed to a place where she can get proper care and schooling, they scream, “Let’s march!”, elevating the child’s hysteria and truancy to a public virtue. Greta doesn’t need adulation; she needs exorcism – except none is on offer.

I’d suggest that, when a message has to be delivered hysterically, there’s something wrong not just with the messenger, but also with the message. I’ll leave you to ponder what that is in Greta’s case.