Tag Archives: martin van creveld

Martin van Creveld says: To understand ISIS, see its history

Summary:  To gain a perspective to understand the Islamic State, Martin van Creveld looks at the history of the Middle East for its origins. Although written last year it remains as apt today as then (despite the monthly clickbait announcements of turning points in this war).

Van Gogh sees the history of the Middle East

Van Gogh's Wheatfield (1890)

Van Gogh’s Wheatfield (1890).

The Monster II

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 24 September 2014
Here with his generous permission

What went wrong? A brief history of the Arab world.

During the middle ages the Arabs developed a brilliant civilization, or so we are told. Next, at some time during the fifteenth century, things began going wrong. The Arabs missed the invention of print (only in 1775 did the Ottomans, who at that time ruled over most Arabs, allow the first printing shop to be established. They missed humanism, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. They missed the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. They missed the French and American Revolutions along with the principles of democracy and human rights; and they also missed the industrial revolution.

As so often, backwardness meant military weakness and invited invasion. By 1919 there was not one Arab country left that was not under European occupation with all the attendant bloodshed, destruction, and humiliation.

The process of liberation started in the 1930s and lasted into the 1960s. Many of the regimes that now took power were republican and secular. They promised to catch up with the modern world, usually by adopting some version of “Arab socialism.” Algeria, Tunisia, Libya (after 1969), Egypt, Syria and Iraq all took this approach.

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Martin van Creveld asks who will stop the Monster, the Islamic State?

Summary:  Today Martin van Creveld looks at the Islamic State. Are they ethnic militia unable to expand from their home zone, or a modern version of the Asiatic hordes? Who will stop them?  (1st of 2 posts today.}

Not how they see the Islamic State

 

The Monster

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 13 August 2014

Here with his generous permission

The monster — the Sunni militias which, equipped by the Saudis with the active backing of the U.S, have been waging civil war in Syria for over three years — has risen against its benefactors. Unable to make headway against Syrian dictator Basher Assad, they have turned to the much softer target that once constituted Iraq but is now, thanks to George Bush Jr, no more than an awful mess. Doing so, they shed any “secular” and “liberal” character they may once had possessed. Instead they revealed their true colors as murderous bandits who wage war with a ferocity rare even among Arabs.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and home to one of the world’s most important oil fields, has already fallen to them. As resistance seems to be crumbling, the capital, Baghdad, may well be next in line. Should that happen then the way to Basra and the Gulf countries in the south will be open. The outcome could well be another Afghanistan threatening to export terrorism, and perhaps more than just terrorism, both to the Gulf States in the south and to Jordan in the west — not to mention what may happen to the world’s economy should one of its main oil-exporting countries be knocked out.

And the West? Following more than a decade of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, its armed forces are exhausted and urgently in need of recuperation. Many of them have also been made the subject of endless cuts. As a result, their strength has been reduced to a fraction of what it used to be even as recently as the early 2000s. For some of them, the American ones in particular, new threats are looming in other parts of the world such as Southeast Asia. Perhaps most important of all, the politicians responsible for the wars in question have been largely discredited. Their successors, with President Barak Obama at their head, may engage in loose talk about the need to use force, as German President Joachim Gauk recently did. However, as President Obama has said, they will not spend any considerable resources to intervene in the ongoing struggle.

Nor, in truth, is there any reason to believe that, if Obama did respond to Iraqi Government pleas and did spend such resources, the outcome would be at all satisfactory.

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Martin van Creveld asks: the more, the better for nuclear proliferation?

Summary:  For over a decade the US and Israel have scared us with stories about the imminent threat of Iran’s nukes, a louder version of a game they’ve played since 1984. Here Martin van Creveld gives a very different view of the problem.  (1st of 2 posts today.}

Nuclear Kraken

Release the Kraken! Art by lchappell

 

More May Be Better

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 2 April 2015

Here with his generous permission

 

Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May be Better was the title of an article published back in 1981 by the redoubtable political scientist Kenneth Waltz. Going against the prevailing wisdom, Waltz argued that nuclear proliferation might not be all bad. Nuclear weapons, he wrote, had prevented the US and the USSR from going to war against each other; as, by all historical logic since the days of Athens and Sparta in the fifth century BC, they should have done. Instead they circled each other like dogs, occasionally barking and baring their teeth but never actually biting. Such was the fear the weapons inspired that other nuclear countries would probably follow suit.

To quote Winston Churchill, peace might be the sturdy child of terror.

Since then over thirty years have passed. Though Waltz himself died in 2013, his light goes marching on. At the time he published his article there were just five nuclear countries (the US, the USSR, Britain, France, and China). Plus one, Israel, which had the bomb but put anybody who dared say so in jail. Since then three (India, Pakistan, and North Korea) have been added, raising the total to nine. Yet on no occasion did any of these states fight a major war against any other major, read nuclear, power.

And how about Iran? First, note that no country has taken nearly as long as Iran did to develop its nuclear program. Started during the 1970s under the Shah, suspended during the 1980s as the Iranians were fighting Saddam Hussein (who had invaded Iran), and renewed in the early 1990s, that program has still not borne fruit. This suggests that, when the Iranians say, as they repeatedly have, that they do not want to build a bomb they are sincere, at least up to a point. All they want is the infrastructure that will enable them to build it quickly should the need arise. That is a desire they have in common with quite some other countries such as Sweden, Japan, and Australia.

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Martin van Creveld asks “War! What is it good for?”

Summary:  Since we appear to be locked into a long war, we should understand the nature of war and how its changing. Fortunately there are books explaining this in clear language. In today’s post Martin van Creveld reviews one of the best of the new ones, by a Stanford professor of classics.

Your breath first kindled the dead coal of wars
And brought in matter that should feed this fire;
And now ’tis far too huge to be blown out
With that same weak wind which enkindled it.

King John Act V, scene 2.

What War is Good For

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 3 December 2014

Review of War! What Is It Good For? by Ian Morris (2014, 496 pp).

Morris, a professor of classics and of history at Stanford University, thinks he can distinguish between two kinds of war. The first kind, which he calls “counterproductive war,” is waged by non-state entities against each other and also against what more developed communities exist.

It is the oldest form of war by far, consisting of skirmishes and raids and leading to little but death and destruction. It prevalence was responsible for the fact that, among the simplest known societies such as the Yanomamo of Brazil, as many as 10-20% of all people used to come to a violent end. It goes without saying that a population consisting of tribes, all constantly fighting each other for honor and for resources such as water, cattle and women cannot produce much by way of a civilization. As Morris, quoting Thomas Hobbes, says, its members’ lives are almost certain to be nasty, brutish and short.

Enter the other kind of war, which Morris calls “productive.” Productive war was made possible by certain technical and organizational innovations the first and most important of which was the invention of agriculture. It enabled the “stationary bandits” who best knew how to use them to break the cycle and set out on the way to empire-building.

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Martin van Creveld explains why our actions in the Syrian civil war will fail

Summary:  Today Martin van Creveld, one of our generation’s most acute geopolitical analysts, gives a brilliant brief on the Syrian civil war, putting it in the larger context of America’s mad Middle Eastern policy. I recommend reading, especially his conclusions.   (2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Any wise enemy is better than an ignorant friend.”
— Arab proverb.

Bashar al Assad. Photo by Reuters.

Bashar al Assad. Photo by Reuters.

For Whom the Bells Toll

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 11 June 2015

For Bashir Assad, the bells have been tolling. If one believes the media, he and the regime he represents are on their last legs. Whether or not that is true is not at issue here — similar predictions have been heard ever since civil war broke out in Syria four years ago. What I do want to do is take a look at the origins of the war, the way it has been going, and what the future may look like in case the predictions come true.

The decisive fact about the Assad — meaning, in Arabic, “Lion” — family is that they are Alawites. The Alawites are a section within the Sunni Shia tradition. They do not, however, form part of the mainstream. Some Islamic scholars do not even regard them as Muslims; claiming that they are basically pagans who worship the moon and the stars. The community is scattered among Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. It is, however, only in Syria that they form a significant minority, counting perhaps one seventh of the population. That explains why Bashir’s paternal grandfather, Ali Suleiman al Assad (1875-1963), supported French colonial rule. He and his fellow Alawites knew well enough how majority Muslims deal with minority ones.

Suleiman’s son Hafez made his career as an air force officer. In 1963 he took part in a coup that brought the Ba’ath, a party that professed a curious mixture of secularism, nationalism, and socialism, to power. In 1966 he co-authored another coup, this time one that took place inside the Ba’ath leadership; in 1970, following a third coup, he assumed power as a military dictator. He did not, however, do much to change the nature of the regime. The latter remained what it had been. An amalgam of secularism, nationalism, “Arab” socialism; and of course the kind of brutal police state which seems to be more or less the only kind most Arabs understand and can live under.

{Read the rest at Martin van Creveld’s website}

Martin van Creveld asks: why do American kids kill?

Summary:  Today Martin van Creveld looks at an aspect of America that amazes foreigners — not just our stratospheric murder rate, but the incredible rate of murders by children. We feel righteous superiority about Arabs sending their children as suicide bombers, but prefer not to think about the greater number of American children killing on their own initiative. We are exceptional.   (1st of 2 posts today.}

Killer kids

Why American Kids Kill

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 2 July 2014
Posted here with his generous permission.

American kids keep killing each other, their teachers, and any other adults who happen to be present when they go berserk. Since December 2012 alone there have been some 74 school shootings, more than two a month on the average. Each time something of the kind happens the media go even more berserk than the children themselves. So far neither metal detectors at the gates nor armed guards in the corridors seem to have made much of a difference. Proposals for dealing with the problem have ranged from providing teachers with handguns to covering students with bullet-proof blankets.

As a foreigner who has spent some years in the U.S while his children went to school there, and who has written a book (in Russian) about the U.S, I may be in a better position than many others to shed some light on this question. Here, then, are my observations.

Healthcare for children

Owing to the way the healthcare system is constructed, American infants are more likely than some others to die during their early months or years. For many years now, even the States that do best in this respect tend to lag behind many other developed countries, including some that are much poorer. Though America’s fertility rate may be the highest among developed countries, its kids are skimped on before they are born as well as immediately after birth. Arguably the fact that the problem affects lower-class socio-economic families much more than it does those above them only makes things worse.

Child care spending

Compared to many other developed countries, America spends relatively little of its public wealth on raising its children. Family payments, measured in absolute numbers, are lower than in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the U.K. They are also much lower than the OECD average. Relative to the earned incomes of employed single mothers, the overall value of cash transfers per family is low and declining. As a result, the percentage of children who live in poverty is higher than in most other developed countries.

Parental tyranny: Over-parenting

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The great powers slid into WWI. Martin van Creveld asks if we might do so again.

Summary:  Talk of another Cold War fills our news, with some forecasting a hot war with Russia — perhaps even WWIII. Today Martin van Creveld looks at the last great power rivalry that drifted into war, and explains why it’s not likely to happen again.  (2nd of 2 posts today.}

Your Government Needs You

The eternal call to war.

 

Slithering into War

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 19 June 2014

Posted here with his generous permission.

 

As the centennial of the outbreak of World War I approaches, a deluge of new publications seeks to commemorate it and to re-interpret it. Among the best of the lot is Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2014). That is why I have chosen to discuss it here.

The war itself broke out on 31 July. As one would imagine, the search for its origins began right away. Assuming, of course, that the accusations which the various future belligerent started throwing at each other during the preceding weeks should not be seen as part of that search or, at any rate, as preparation for it.

At first it was a question of pointing fingers at personalities, be it Serb Prime Minister Nikola Pasič, or Austrian Chief of Staff Konrad von Hoeztendorf, or the Russian Tsar, or French prime minister René Viviani, or British foreign minister Edward Grey, or the German Kaiser, or whoever.

Very quickly, however, the hunt expanded to include not only persons but entire peoples. Not just Pasič but all, or at any rate most, Serbs were bad people always ready to throw bombs so to undermine the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in the name of irredentism. Not just Hoetzendorf, but many of the ruling circles in Vienna demanded war in the hope of saving the empire from disintegration. Not just the Tsar but many of his people entertained pan-Slavic dreams of expansion, mostly at the expense of Austria-Hungary. Not just Viviani, but the entire French people formed an arrogant nation used to exercise hegemony over the continent and unable to resign itself to its loss. Not just Grey, but the British people as a whole were hypocritical warmongers determined to hold on to their commercial superiority. Not just the Kaiser, but all Germans were power-drunk militarists.

The list goes on and on.

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