The Clare Spark Blog

September 4, 2013

The Syria crisis and historicism

arabs-take-syria-crisis-to-un-1327616110-3682I am in no way an expert on current relations in the Middle East, but I have found one article that seems rational and appropriately analytic, written by Caroline Glick: http://www.carolineglick.com/e/2013/08/obamas-bread-and-circuses.php#.UiduRyC71lA.facebook.

Who is supporting Obama’s recent foreign policy moves? The Wall Street Journal and various moderates, i.e., neoconservatives. As I write this short blog, those who support Obama’s desire to have a limited strike in Syria are calling their opponents “isolationists.”  These include Bret Stephens writing in the Wall Street Journal, and Ron Radosh, writing for Pajamas Media. Stephens is critical of neo-isolationism, while Radosh seems primarily concerned with the weakening of executive authority. Radosh writes “Our country cannot afford the luxury of weakening of presidential power and authority, which could stifle the ability to act when it is most needed in the future. Supporting the authority of the Chief Executive to act, does not mean conservatives and Republicans should stop being critical of the policy of the Obama administration, its half-way measures, its contradictions and its overall embarrassing incompetence. But to weaken the authority of any Chief Executive to act, including President Barack Obama, will only hurt the nation and stifle our ability to respond to aggression effectively, now and later.” it is somewhat buried within a comparison of “isolationists” before and after WW2. But are the conditions the same?

ISOLATIONISM”. It is not historically correct to label every opponent of Obama’s latest initiative in the Syria crisis as an “isolationist,” though some may be so. The opponents of American involvement in European affairs as European countries fell into the lap of the Third Reich during the 1930s (see https://clarespark.com/2013/08/31/the-devil-in-history-a-j-p-taylor-vs-r-palme-dutt/ ),  were largely from the Midwest and South: many bought the defeatist line of such unapologetic antisemites as Joseph P. Kennedy while he was Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Kennedy even warned a gathering of fifty mostly Jewish Hollywood “moguls” in 1940 that Hitler would win and that they should therefore not make anti-Nazi films, a point that is overlooked by Ben Urwand’s sensational book Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler (Harvard UP, 2013). And before that, FDR’s support of the Neutrality Act allowed the Spanish rebels to destroy a popularly elected government in Spain. FDR was worried about “the Catholic vote.”

At the time, like populist antisemites before them, Hitler and his admirers in other countries blamed all modern warfare on an international cabal of Jewish financiers who also controlled the new mass media. From J. A. Hobson onward, “the Jews” made wars for the sake of unseemly profits (see Hobson’s words here: https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/). Such was the source of much “isolationism” before Pearl Harbor. (And I have not mentioned prior French upper-class ongoing hatred of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s emancipation of the Jews, echoed by the tsarist agents who dreamed up The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, itself based on an earlier French rightist fantasy.)

This is a confusing time for Americans of both political parties. What I see missing from the commentary of Obama’s supporters is the appropriate hesitancy of intervention that is considered to be either “too little too late” or misdirected and likely to further empower Iran, Syria’s ally and patron. The opponents of Obama are not wary of any foreign intervention because of the Jew-hatred that marked “isolationism” before Pearl Harbor. The dissenters’ case is made on strategic grounds, blended with a mistrust of this administration’s competence in foreign affairs, including its appeal to a non-existent “international community.”

The moral of this short blog: Historicism is the practice of looking at conflict without specious analogies to prior conflicts. Each new conflict is unique and our opinions are largely based on guesswork and such often suspect and multi-layered statements as become public.  The best of us are groping in the dark. It is all too human to seek patterns and precedents in the past, but that may be a fool’s errand, for the historians or other experts upon whom we rely are captives to an often inaccessible record along with their biases and preferred interpretations.

While it used to be the case that historical judgments about the causes of prior wars were based on the archival record (such as it is), we have nothing to go on now but the statements of our leaders. Should we trust their veracity and good intentions? When did properly skeptical historians become “authoritative” journalists? (See https://clarespark.com/2013/05/06/the-new-left-activist-scholars/.)

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