The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Economist, Caldwell, and "Eurabia"

Parts of this post were published as letters in The Economist, a response to their review of Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. He held his opening lecture for his book at LSE ("Can Europe be the same with different people in it?"). I was able to attend and ask a question. (See here, search "Caldwell", includes video).

Caveat: Because I am generalizing about Muslims in the whole of Europe, I will not do justice to the fact that there is no one "Muslim community" within Europe, or even within individual European nations. Coming from various nations in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia, there is a good deal less coherence to "Muslim Europeans" than the term might imply.

Books on Islam's coming takeover of Europe are a veritable cottage industry, of which I think Mark Steyn's puerile sensationalism tops the lot. Caldwell's most recent book, however, is perhaps the most dangerous because it purports to be the most “respectable” version of the “Eurabia thesis” to date. The thesis has many parts, the most prominent being that we will see an “Islamized” Europe because of allegedly relentless Muslim immigration and congenitally high birth rates. It is the nightmare of European anti-immigration parties concerned with those with darker hues walking their streets and the crass fantasy of neoconservatives that effeminate, flaccid, relativist Europe should pay the ultimate price for its Neville Chamberlainism. Let me say a few things.

It would have been good for The Economist to debunk some of the “unremitting pessimism” from Caldwell and others on Europe's “Islamization”. It is at odds with basic facts. In the United Kingdom, immigration from India, the West Indies and non-Muslim parts of Africa means a majority of ethnic minorities are not in fact Muslims at all. In Germany, half a century of “mass” immigration means just over 1 in 20 residents of that country are Muslims. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe with perhaps 6 million, of which Algeria has provided the largest number. According to the CIA and other sources, while France has a fertility rate of about 2 per woman, for Algeria the figure is only 1.8. Cultural essentialism reveals its bankruptcy yet again.

More broadly, It is a grave mistake to portray the problems of Muslims in Europe as chiefly attributable to “culture”. Obviously, the conservatism of some recent arrivals, especially from rural parts of the Third World (not just Muslims, mind you), can be at odds with the post-feminist values of Europe (themselves a relatively recent phenomenon: Swiss women could not vote until 1971, to rape one’s wife only became a crime in England in 1991). For most European Muslims, cultural conservatism is not the issue. Children are quickly socialized to the materialism, consumerism, values and sexual mores that characterize Western society today.

I do not claim that there is a seamless multicultural Utopia in Europe. However, a statement like “a surprising number of immigrants have proved ‘unmeltable’” could only be made by someone with a rather rosy and idealized view of the American “melting pot”. Immigrants to the U.S. have tended to form their own ethnic neighborhoods that can be extremely durable, if not permanent. De facto residential segregation and somewhat defensive identity politics among ethnic groups is the norm in most countries. Muslims in Europe have proven no different. It should not be surprising that these “new Europeans” should maintain their identities as Muslims (or, forth that matter, as Arabs or Turks) while also being British or French. These identities, incidentally, are partly based on the need for community organization and consciousness against the varying degrees of hostility towards Muslims that exist in Europe. The existence of such “hyphen identities” is hardly a sign of failure in itself, any more than is the existence of Hispanic Americans or Malaysian Chinese.

The issue is not so much culture as ethnicity or, to use a good French term, “communitarianism”. The Economist notes that Caldwell “echoes” the warnings of the anti-immigration British politician Enoch Powell’s “warnings all those years ago.” It would have been nice to actually quote those warnings. Powell’s famous 1968 Rivers of Blood speech spoke of a woman who “finds excreta pushed through her letterbox. When she goes to the shops, she is followed by children, charming, wide-grinning piccaninnies.” The issue for Powell was not “culture” but race. His prejudice was aimed at the presence of Blacks and South Asians in and of themselves (whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim). At the beginnings of mass immigration in the 1950s, the image of the “native” of Africa or Asia was still roughly that of the poems of Rudyard Kipling or of Hergé’s Tin Tin in the Congo: a child and a savage, either comical or dangerous, to be educated and to be disciplined. It never occurred to Europeans that they might live in Europe, with their own lives, viewpoints and rights.

For this reason, it is absolutely ridiculous for The Economist to say that “[f]or the most part European countries have bent over backwards to accommodate the sensibilities of the newcomers.” Ever since Muslims were invited into Europe for economic reasons in the 1950s, they have been subject to hostility and discrimination by the host populations. One example was the Paris Massacre of 1961 where between 40 and 200 peaceful Algerian protesters were killed by French police. This event was officially denied until 1998. Obviously, the unflattering reality of anti-Muslim prejudice was rarely discussed. Moralistic Europeans preferred to think Americans and South Africans had a monopoly on race prejudice. The question of minorities in Europe today is dominated, not by religious practice, but by ethnicity, racism, marginalization, social dysfunction, poor relations with the police, and so forth. This is why relations with other marginalized minorities in Europe (such as non-Muslim Blacks, Gypsies and secular ethnic Albanians) are not noticeably better than with Muslims. The allegedly unchanging essence of “Islam” is about as relevant to the problems of Muslims in Europe today as Catholic theology is to the Northern Irish question.

The question is not whether young girls who choose to cover their hair are destroying Europe. The question is why second and third generation Muslim Europeans are expected to become uniquely good, well-adjusted citizens when they are left to fester in the marginalized, decaying and “containable” ghettos of many of Europe’s major cities. And here, the example of the U.S. is informative.

There is a long history of internal migration of African Americans to cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Americans crammed a brimming population into slums and ghettos, letting the problem fester for decades, until the vicious circles of social decay and state crackdown now seem inescapable. Since the 1980s, the American prison population has quadrupled, with a very large proportion of that expansion being driven by the imprisonment of Black men. The problem is nowhere near so bad in Europe, though the proportion of minorities has steadily grown. Social problems are tackled less by systematic incarceration (often for non-violent crimes) which turns petty crooks into hardened criminals and more by stronger welfare states that provide basic economic security for those at risk. There is cause for optimism.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Numbers: Past and Future Cost of the Afghan War

Given all the talk about the coming escalation in Afghanistan, I thought I'd put some figures on past and potential future cost of the war.

These are the past levels U.S. troops in Afghanistan. President Obama increased it by 21,000 this year. Talk of further escalation suggests there will be anywhere between 20,000 and 45,000 extra soldiers sent in the coming year. Casualties have roughly shadowed troop levels.

These numbers include Europeans and Canadians fighting in Afghanistan. Until 2008, America's NATO allies contributed roughly half of all forces in the country. These numbers do not include military contractors employed by the Department of Defense, of which we know comparatively little. In Afghanistan, at over 68,000, they outnumber American forces 1.3 to 1. Over 76% are local Afghans, almost 15% are Americans, the remaining 10% being other nationalities. (See the Congressional Research Service's detailed report on the subject.) Like the number of uniformed U.S. military personnel, their number too has been increasing.

The financial burden of the Afghan War up to today has been about $189 billion for the U.S. The cost in treasure, like that in blood, has also run roughly parallel to troop levels.

Source: CRS

What conclusions can we draw? Though every death is a tragedy, the number of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan has not been crippling. Top U.S. officials pushing for escalation have said the renewed effort will take at least 5 years. We can assume the war will cost at least $350 billion without further escalation, and potentially over $500 billion depending on how many more soldiers are sent. To put these figures in perspective, Senator Baucus's healthcare bill has a value of $857 billion over 10 years. After escalation, the Afghan War is likely to cost about as much per year as some of the healthcare reform proposals.

The costs of the Afghan War will threaten the viability of Obama's domestic project. While the financial burden may become equal to the administration's signature domestic reform, there are also the less quantifiable political costs. Public opinion among NATO allies has largely turned against the war and the U.S. may find itself increasingly alone there despite Obama's seduction of Europe. More seriously, the American public is trailing Euro-Canadian opinion. Now, a growing majority of Americans claim they oppose the war (also see a detailed WaPo-NBC poll). Obama, who has repeatedly used calculated ambiguity and even a certain vacuity, will have to make a firm decision regarding an unenviable political dilemma. Obama campaigned on Afghanistan, largely, I believe, as a way of protecting him from baseless attacks from the Right that he would be "weak on defense". He is in a bind. In attempting to escape the fate of Jimmy Carter he may be embracing that of Lyndon Johnson.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

NATO has New Supreme Allied Commander...

...and he is French!

Air Force General Stéphane Abrial is now one of NATO's two Supreme Allied Commanders. Given France's long and difficult history with NATO and its gradual re-integration into the organization since the end of the Cold War (which Sarkozy more or less finished), there is no absence of symbolism in having the first non-American Supreme Commander of NATO be a Frenchman.

I have to say I don't entirely understand the new post. Technically, Abrial is Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), based in Norfolk, Virginia. He is replacing an American Marine General, James Mattis. The SACT is charged with adapting NATO to the future at a time when the Alliance's role is in doubt as European and American publics turn against the war in Afghanistan. More symbolism for you! This is the first time France has been at the head of a major alliance since Marshal Ferdinand Foch was Commander in Chief of the Western Front in the Great War (1918).

France's reintegration into the Alliance has been long overdue. During the Cold War, it would have been natural for France, as the most presitigious continental European state (divided Germany was marked "atomic battlefield"), to have a central role in the coalition against the Soviet Union. France's costly and doomed wars of decolonization in Southeast Asia and North Africa meant the country was partly absent during NATO's formative years. In the 1960s, Charle de Gaulle decided on a new strategy of semi-membership of NATO that hoped to make France escape nuclear annihilation in a potential U.S.-Soviet War (possibly started over some nonsense in Asia). Since the end of the Cold War, the Gaullist position has lost many of its merits. It is laudable that France looks to be becoming a fully fledged partner as the Alliance at it attempts to adapt to the needs of a rapidly changing world.

Monday, September 07, 2009

"Afghan Options"

A really cool defense blog by an American helicopter pilot goes through some of the more recent Afghan debate. The options:
* Withdrawal (Will, Walt)
* Nation-building (Clinton, McChrystal)
* Minimalist approach, IE, status quo (Biden, Jim Jones)

I don't think number 3, by the way, can be repackaged to be different to what has been done for the past 8 years.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

George Will Rediscovers Paleoconservatism

George Will, digging in on his call to leave Afghanistan, now has the same prescription for Iraq.

He notes the comment of one WaPo journalist who claims the presence of U.S. soldiers "serves as a check on Iraqi military and political leaders' baser and more sectarian instincts." To this he responds:

After almost 6 1/2 years, and 4,327 American dead and 31,483 wounded, with a war spiraling downward in Afghanistan, it would be indefensible for the U.S. military -- overextended and in need of materiel repair and mental recuperation -- to loiter in Iraq to improve the instincts of corrupt elites. If there is a worse use of the U.S. military than "nation-building," it is adult supervision and behavior modification of other peoples' politicians.

Did the surge work? Will violence increase? Either way, Will wants the boys home: "If, in spite of contrary evidence, the U.S. surge permanently dampened sectarian violence, all U.S. forces can come home sooner than the end of 2011. If, however, the surge did not so succeed, U.S. forces must come home sooner." All roads lead to home it seems.

This isn't the typical conservative response, mind you. Most conservatives, both the base and the intellectuals, appear to support the Afghanistan escalation although their position on Iraq is less clear. Here is a breakdown of some of the conservatives who have written against Will on Afghanistan. Most are limited to putting on their best best Churchill and MacArthur impressions. Fred Kagan deals with some specifics although he puts a lot of faith in the Afghan National Army.

The best and worst criticism I think is from Peter Wehner. In "Will's Loss of Nerve" he both basically attacks Will's manhood and quite rightly points out that he is a total flip-flopper. In the past 8 years, one could scarcely have found a better proponent of war in the name of both freedom and security (America's and everyone else's).

Will's shift is characteristic of American Conservatism. It has always lurched violently from decade to decade from stubborn isolationism to fervent crusade and back. It is a schizophrenic tendency I find quite disturbing and, historically, disastrous. I suspect we will see many more conservatives disown "Wilsonian idealism" and "nation-building" to return to their 90s-era soft isolationism. Today, incidentally, I don't think that would be such a bad thing.

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