Saturday 12/17/16

  1. Trump does the impossible
  2. Syria: Navel-gazing, Tables, Prose
  3. Picking our next fight
  4. Not cut out for monasticism

Tertiary Things

1

Even before taking the oath of office, Donald Trump has achieved the impossible—driving liberals to the original text of the Constitution. This strange new respect for the Founders will only last until the President-elect nominates a new Supreme Court Justice, and too bad it arrives as an assault on the Electoral College to elect someone other than Mr. Trump.

This organized political campaign is being conducted in the name ofAlexander Hamilton, and not merely because of the Broadway musical. In Federalist No. 68, Hamilton wrote that the Electoral College “affords a moral certainty, that the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

Progressives are invoking this line to claim Mr. Trump lacks such qualifications ….

(Wall Street Journal, Review and Outlook)

2

Imagine looking at Aleppo and thinking primarily of yourself. Imagine reading about the violence and deprivation in this city and wondering what it all reveals about you. Imagine treating Aleppo, less as a war-torn city brought to ruin by a lethal combination of Western and regional meddling followed by a brutal air campaign by Russia and Assad, and more as a litmus test of your own decency; a theatre in which to act out your own moral psychodramas and re-enact your own petty political battles. Incredibly, this is happening. The Western political and media elites’ response to the tragedy of Aleppo has not been to work out how this horror came to pass, far less what role they might have played in it; it has been to turn Aleppo into a stage upon which they might say something about themselves, prove themselves, absolve themselves.

… One columnist wonders what we see ‘when we turn off the pictures from Aleppo and look in the mirror’. A narcissist, perhaps? Someone so vain he thinks other people’s war is about him? Aleppo has become an ‘exemplar of something else’, says a writer for the Atlantic. Of what? You guessed it: of us, and our attitudes, and our need to do better; to jettison our ‘indifference’ and ‘fecklessness’ and become more moral and assertive in the world. Aleppo is a calling.

(Brenda O’Neil, Aleppo: virtue‑signalling goes global, Spiked)

Moving away from the narcissistic approach to thinking about Aleppo, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (and a hat-tip to Rod Dreher) offers The Syrian War Condensed: A more Rigorous Way to Look at the Conflict).

Taleb compares Syria’s two factions in a side-by-side table, with this lead:

The way to analyze the situation is to look at the factions comparatively. You do not compare Assad’s regime to the Danish or Norwegian governments, but to the alternative. The question becomes if there is anything in the left column that is worse than the right column?

(Emphasis in Original) Answer Taleb’s question for yourself. Is he missing something?

Patrick J. Buchanan puts analysis it in prose rather than tables, although with a crypto-narcissistic lament for the “collapse of U.S. leadership” (not quoted below):

In this world, it is often dangerous to be an enemy of the United States, said Henry Kissinger in 1968, but to be a friend is fatal.

The South Vietnamese would come to appreciate the insight.

So it is today with Aleppo, where savage reprisals against U.S.-backed rebels are taking place in that hellhole of human rights.

On August 18, 2011, President Obama said, “For the sake of the Syrian people the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Western leaders echoed the Obama—“Assad must go!”

Assad, however, declined to go, and crushed an Arab Spring uprising of the kind that had ousted Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. When the U.S. began to fund and train rebels to overthrow him, Assad rallied his troops and began bringing in allies—Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia.

It was with their indispensable assistance that he recaptured Aleppo in the decisive battle of the war …

How did this debacle come about?

First, in calling for the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who had not attacked or threatened us, we acted not in our national interests, but out of democratist ideology. Assad is a dictator. Dictators are bad. So Assad must go.

Yet we had no idea who would replace him.

It soon became clear that Assad’s most formidable enemies, and probable successors, would be the al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, or ISIS, then carrying out grisly executions in their base camp in Raqqa ….

3

Now that we’ve amply proven the danger of being our friends in Syria, the blood-lusters turn to Iran:

One of the biggest foreign policy challenges facing the incoming Donald Trump’s administration could be countering Iran’s expansion throughout the Middle East …

(Robert Joseph and Ray Takeyh via Daniel Larison)

Had you not noticed Iran’s expansion through the Middle East? Neither had I. Neither had Larison.

Hawks thrive on exaggerating foreign threats, and one way to do that is to claim that an adversary is expansionist and/or imperialist …

Iran’s “relentless expansionism” is not real, but it is very important to many Iran hawks that we believe that it is. It lends their demands for more aggressive measures a sense of urgency, and it makes it seem as if we are simply “responding” to their “aggression.” If they are “relentless,” that implies that they will keep going until someone (i.e., the U.S.) stops them, which conjures up the idea that the entire region would somehow fall into their hands if nothing is done.

(Larison) I hope the incoming Trump administration will not take this stinky bait.

4

A little over a month ago, and just a few days after Leonard Cohen’s death, I picked up the last volume of his poetry on the shelf of a Chicago Barnes & Noble: Book of Longing.

Leonard Cohen wrote the poems in Book of Longing—his first book of poetry in more than twenty years—during his five-year stay at a Zen monastery on Southern California’s Mount Baldy, and in Los Angeles, Montreal, and Mumbai. This dazzling collection is enhanced by the author’s playful and provocative drawings, which interact in exciting, unexpected ways on the page with poetry that is timeless, meditative, and often darkly humorous. An international sensation, Book of Longing contains all the elements that have brought Cohen’s artistry with language worldwide recognition.

(Amazon booknote)

It’s pretty clear, from poem and “provocative drawings,” that what Cohen was longing for on Mt. Baldy was — ahem! — nothing that his fellow monks could give him, if you get my drift.

I don’t think he was cut out for monasticism.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.