Saturday, February 28, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, February 28

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


Men and nations fight wars to protect their homelands and their shipping lanes. Just as often they fight to protect allies and punish old foes. But men fight often to protect their honor as a people and the sacred goods around which they are congregated as a nation. For Sunni Muslims of the Mideast, it does matter how any set of fighters are aligned in the Sunni-Shia divide. For Turks who are Sunni Muslims, they are willing to fight for ancestral tombs, to keep the Kurds in their national borders, and to weaken any Shiite state in the neighborhood - particularly Assad of Syria. They are much less interested in taking on Sunni ISIS, though they are one force large enough to do so.    

According to Global Firepower (GFP) Turkey with a population of 82 million and 41 million men of fighting age has 3,800 tanks, 7,500 Armed Field Vehicles, 500 helicopters and 410,000 men in active duty. The numbers for ISIS are hard to get at. Two estimates by the CIA put their forces at 20-30,000 in September 2014 and 11-18,000 more recently. In a Senate hearing with Secretary of State Kerry, the number 40,000 was stated by a senator and not contradicted by Kerry. This is an important assessment needed in the debate. Men fight for what is sacred to them. The non-Arab Turks have not spent many troops on the ISIS front, right on their western border, but they did send men and tanks to save the graves of their fathers. As America seems less and less united by shared sacred goods, it is good to remember what George Orwell said about Mein Kampf.


The State Department now has an envoy to defend and promote homosexuals. Meanwhile the notion that Christian America has some fraternal duty to fellow Christians is considered a deep breach of Church-State separation. While Israel debates defining itself as a Jewish State and multiple Muslim countries define themselves as such, the nations of Christendom can barely say there is a God in public civic actions. CNN sponsored the right debate between Alabama Judge Moore and CNN host Chris Cuomo (son of Mario, brother of Andrew - both baptized Catholics and New York governors). A nation of men or a nation under God.              
ISIS is losing territory to the Kurds in the northeast part of Syria but that has not prevented them from an abduction of Christians. Christians will need states, militias and allies to defend them from the aggression of the jihadists as Christians and their art is meant to be effaced. The Lebanese Christians are watching. They are not part of the anti-Hezbollah lobby. Hezbollah is a fighting Shiite force despised by Israel and targeted by ISIS. But for the Maronite Christians of Lebanon, the fighting Shiites will be important allies against any move of ISIS to the west.


One state that has acknowledged a special duty to defend Christians is Russia. Present polices agreed upon by both parties are driving us to war with one of our most natural allies in the religious-political theater which faces us. Here is a good review of the US dealing with Russia since the end of the Cold War by Professor Stephen Cohen on Russia-US relations.                                              

The Jewish migration from Soviet Union in the 1970s followed the Soviet opposition to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. With the fall of Soviet ideology, there were fears of many secular Jews that Russian nationalism(especially grounded in a Christian Orthodox communal identity) might lead to a resurgence of anti-Semitism.  This is not the case for President Putin.  Putin is a certain kind of nationalist. Another author who has a strong dislike for Putin explains that even a "nice Putin" would defend policies of a Russian nationalist.


A calm look at three intersecting crises by analysts from Stratfor.                                                


Any war against ISIS to remove all semblance of territorial authority from their control must answer the question: "Who will govern after?" The U.S. actually had a better answer for that in Iraq and Afghanistan than Libya. We would advocate a Sunni alliance led by Jordan with some kind of Sunni National Guard emerging as the local men who fought for the new state and thus won the soldier's right to governance. Jordan and Egypt are true alternatives to Saudi Arabian leadership. Turkey is an established Sunni state adjacent to the contested territory. However the Turks are not Arabs and their real goals are the fall of President Assad of Syria and blocking the emergence of a Kurdish republic which would make claims on the loyalty of their own Kurdish population. Egyptian military leaders have made a frontal assault on ISIS ideology within Islam but they still have a serious problem winning the loyalty of their own people after coming to power by overthrowing an elected government. The multiple executions of Muslim Brotherhood members leaves a legacy not resolved. Jordan has provided a different kind of leadership and may be the Sunni authority needed to organize a Sunni State after the demolition of ISIS. Their president and ministers have also been the clearest in declaring: "This is our war not the West's - we are the tip of the spear."


Underlying all strategic considerations is the Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict. This is particularly true in Yemen.


The January 2015 speech by President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi of Egypt calling for a very different revolution in Islamic thought is the beginning of the deeper level discussion needed in this crisis.

Here is Fr. Robert Barron's take on the atheist complaint against the suffering of the innocent .

For all those worried about the Pope's upcoming encyclical on "climate change" it might be helpful to consider that his underlying approach will be about creation and the ecology of man. Pope Benedict spoke of this as well. Pope Francis asserts there is an order in creation and human nature is a given within that deeper order. Speaking of Pope Francis, this is the best talk on his biography by the author Austen Ivereigh: The Great Reformer. The "best" written review of the book is to be found on AOA earlier this week.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The burial site of the only canonized king of France


Saint Louis IX -- who died in 1270 (four years before Thomas Aquinas was ushered into the full presence of God) -- is buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis.

On the northern edge of Paris, it is where most of the  French monarchs are interred. Another reason for its fame since the 12th century: it was the first Gothic church ever built.

Gothic, which replaced Romanesque architecture, was a “transformation of stone into something light and airy.”

It wasn't until 1966 that the Basilica of Saint Denis also became a cathedral.

In his inimitable way, here are some words that flowed from G.K. Chesterton's pen as he addressed the subject of Gothic architecture:
"The truth about Gothic is, first, that it is alive, and second, that it is on the march. It is the Church Militant; it is the only fighting architecture. All its spires are spears at rest..."

Both Chesterton and the art critic John Ruskin were in awe of Lincoln Cathedral (three hours north of London):

UPDATE: In what church had Louis IX been crowned? Only 12 years old at the death of his father, his coronation was at Reims Cathedral (one of the Gothic churches whose stunning photographs can be found here.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Map on Monday: Mapping Middle Earth

by A. Joseph Lynch

While J.R.R. Tolkien's love of language played a great role in his story-telling (he invented a language before creating a fictional species to speak it), map-making was another essential, if often overlooked, part of his writings. Tolkien once said: “Believable fairy-stories must be intensely practical. You must have a map, no matter how rough. Otherwise you wander all over the place. In The Lord of the Rings I never made anyone go farther than he could on a given day.”

Making the maps that shaped the story of Middle Earth was a father-son effort. Tolkien drafted his own maps for writing, but his son, Christopher, is credited with making the maps used in publishing. In 1969, Tolkien gave permission and assistance to Pauline Baynes in creating an early, authoritative map of Middle Earth (see below).

This map of Middle Earth was painted by Pauline Baynes in 1969. Design by J. R. R. Tolkien, C. R. Tolkien, Pauline Baynes. Copyright © George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1970.

An Excerpt from J.R.R. Tolkien's Mythopoeia:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind. 
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, February 21

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


President Obama held a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Feb 10 at the State Department. After a day of highlighting local outreach programs involving city governments and local Muslims, leaders from abroad heard a series of speeches by the President, Secretary Kerry, Attorney General Holder and National Security adviser Susan Rice. None of these talks dealt with a strategic ordering of nations and states in a Mideast convulsed by an intra-Sunni war of identity in the midst of a escalating Sunni-Shiite war on multiple fronts. Mr. Holder said research has been initiated to study the similar profiles of young people joining urban gangs at home and those joining extremists abroad. He didn't mention young males. Susan Rice said there had to be particular focus on women and girls because who better can alert us to upcoming violence than the watchful eye of a mother. President Obama said fighting extremism must include refuting the "ugly lie that the West is in a war against Islam."


The President is correct in saying we are not fighting Islam. He is painfully wrong in not naming our enemy as a distinct religious movement within Islam. His correct instinct not to enlarge the identity of our enemy is fatally compromised by not isolating it by a precise definition. This ambiguity can only hurt Muslims who need to be clearly distinguished from that brand of Islam we are trying to find and destroy. A brilliant widely-read article in the Atlantic provides a good start in understanding the apocalyptic underpinnings of ISIS.


Understanding the religious nature of our enemy should drive us to better assess the cultural religious loyalties of our most natural allies in this war which Congress is now debating to authorize. This must begin with a clear understanding of the great disaster of baby boom diplomacy: enmity with Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russia is an indispensable ally we need in this war, and we must approach them as a nation conceived in Christendom. Our century of battle with their atheist Communist leadership bled the world; our fraternity could heal it. But first we must understand the colossal strategic errors that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Both parties and almost all American  public men have shared in this blunder.  It will take a few real statesmen to put us back on the right path.  The enlargement of NATO has drawn us into an entangling alliance with a European Union which is imploding. Our agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev was based on a promise to Russia that the peaceful reuniting of Germany as a nation-state depended on no eastern expansion of NATO. That buffer zone didn't exactly work out.  A serious geostrategic debate  of US/NATO-Russian relations during the Clinton and Bush years might start by considering  Robert Parry's argument: Why "Blame Putin" doesn't work for the Ukraine Crisis.


America's intellectual elite of power couples deeply identify with the dying  Euro-superstate of libertine atheism. They mean it when they say "we are all Charlie Hebdo." The EU, and its military extension NATO, have replaced the old Soviet Union as the dominant form of the godless state. The Eurocentric bias of our first black president and his feminist State Department is mindful of the last synod of Catholic bishops when a German cardinal dismissed the African bishops for their taboo-driven thinking on sexual matters. There is the same disconnect between America's irreligious officials and the very religious Nigerians in forming an alliance against the deadliest of Africa's Sunni terrorists. The anti-Christian and anti traditional  bias of our governmental elite is a tired white racialism masquerading as the modern West. A Nigerian bishop bemoans the linking by the Obama-Clinton team of military support against Boko Haram with capitulation on homosexuality.

Christianity has created great nations to the East and West, to the South and North. Christian culture has fostered wide-radius brotherhood which is the basis of civilized nations and concerts of nations. We must reform ourselves and reassert the protective presence of fraternity to be worthy of what Pope Francis called an ecumenism of blood. The Libyans who killed those 21 Christian workers from Egypt have now definitely answered Hillary Clinton's question of "What difference does it make?" in regard to who murdered our ambassador in Benghazi. We are entering a religious war and to fight it properly we will have to reform ourselves as a Christian nation. The painful inadequacies seen in the desolate speeches of our highest officials at the CVE summit are countered in this reflection by Rod Dreher on atheist, secular, and religious.


Our theme this week is to define the enemy, begin to define ourselves again, and to discourage alienating nations that should be powerful allies. Finally, we must not be fooled by those pretending to be our allies who have very different goals than our own.

The US has signed a deal with Turkey to arm Syrian Sunnis. But we should not forget that both Saudi Arabia and Turkey are much more interested that those Syrians direct their energies against the Shiite State and fight against Assad. The one piece of advice that former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft had for the Senate panel in their joint testimony this week was: do not make Assad and the portion of Syria he controls into your enemy. We can be assured that advice will not be followed by the new Sunni "moderates" who have not been willing to replace their deep antipathy  toward Assad with a fighting will against ISIS.

Speaking of allies, the Cooperation Council for the Arab states of the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and United Arab Emirates) is not forming a military alliance to take on Al-Qaeda in Yemen which many analysts say is the group most likely to launch attacks against the US homeland. They are instead agitating to militarily oust the Shia Houthis of Yemen who are willing to fight Al-Qaeda. Our so-called allies among Sunni monarchies are much more interested in their war against the Shia governments of Iran, Syria, and now the  regional government in Yemen. That is understandable in terms of their long-term hatreds. But should their enmities drive US policy?  Bahrain is majority-Shiite, but they are ruled by a Sunni king who was aided by troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE in quelling the Bahraini uprising of their Shiite subjects. Iraq is the only Persian Gulf state not part of the Cooperation Council. The Shiite-majority government that followed the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein  has been a target of Sunni jihadists from throughout the region since they emerged as the elected rulers.


It is not clear if either presidential contenders Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush will be able to clearly see this problem. Mr. Bush's family has deep personal ties to the Saudis. He isn't hiding it. “We have to rebuild our relationships with allies and key relationships in the Middle East, including the Persian Gulf states and of course Egypt. We will not be successful unless we invest in the much-needed coalitions and partnerships and develop the personal relationships that make it possible to garner worldwide support,” he said at a foreign policy speech this week in Chicago. If you think that Democrat populist Hillary Clinton will put an end to such old boy rich-man diplomacy, then read these interesting figures from the Wall Street Journal of foreign contributions to the Clinton endowment fund:
"A previous donor, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has given between $10 million and $25 million since the foundation was created in 1999. Part of that came in 2014, although the database doesn't specify how much. Qatar’s government committee preparing for the 2022 soccer World Cup gave between $250,000 and $500,000 in 2014. Qatar’s government had previously donated between $1 million and $5 million.Oman, which had made a donation previously, gave an undisclosed amount in 2014. Over time, Oman has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million. Prior to last year, its donations fell in the same range. United Arab Emirates, a first-time donor, gave between $1 million and $5 million in 2014."

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, February 14

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


President Barack Obama’s proposed authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS was submitted to Congress February 11, 2015. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has jurisdiction over AUMF legislation. Let us hope it leads to a long overdue post cold-war strategic debate about America's place in the Mideast and among the nations. One remembers the seriousness of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman J. William Fulbright (D-Ark) in leading similar debates on the Vietnam war. Can we expect the same from Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn), today's chairman? This is certainly where the debate belongs. Let us hope different strategic perspectives are truly developed before the yes or no vote to authorize. The chambers of Congress could help in formulating a real strategic debate which will carry into the presidential election of 2016.

                                                     THE ALLIANCE WE NEED

We are contesting a religious movement in ISIS, and it will be a religiously guided movement of nation states that will destroy them. The inability of the soulless states of the modern west to understand this conflict and muster the spiritual and military authority needed to end it should awaken the Christian nations. America, France, Germany and yes, Christian Russia need to join the Shiite states of Iran, Syria and Iraq to support the Sunni states of Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, and Egypt to eradicate the ISIS entity that is preventing a new large civilized Sunni state from emerging in the broken Sunni areas of Syria and Iraq.

AN ALLY?    

We are in a war with radical Salafist Sunnis and yet we are at the same time contesting Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the Iranians over nuclear development and Assad for maintaining an Alawite Shiite government over Damascus and the coastal cities of truncated Syria. All of these states should be our allies. We are in a war with radical Salafist Sunnis yet we are allied with Saudi Arabia. This great contradiction must come to an end.

No Republican Senator has emerged as a William Fulbright to introduce a strategic alternative. Many foreign policy experts have seen a bigger strategic picture. The chairman of the Armed Services committee (John McCain, R-Arizona) is rabidly anti-Russia, anti-Iran, and anti-Assad. If it seems that President Obama wants to fight on no fronts, then the man he defeated for the presidency favors at least four major battle-lines!


It is war against a religious movement and, until we understand how a Christian nation is meant to make both lasting alliances and abbreviated just wars, then we will be left tightening the Gordian knot of fighting ISIS with Charlie Hebdo.


Europe as Europe is imploding. From the left in Greece and the right in France the soulless bureaucrats of Brussels are meeting nationalists with other plans. The leftists of Greece have a vision of a socialist Europe. They are rebelling from the austerity measures being imposed on their debt-ridden country. They see themselves and other high-debt high-unemployment nations as suffering at the hands of especially the Germans who they suggested might pay off Greece's debt as a war reparation for WWII. When Germans face their immigration problem and need to talk race they run from their national identity and embrace the Abend -- the West. This manifests the uncomfortable truth that the modern west, divorced from the universal obligations of Christianity and the communal ties of nations, can easily become a polite way of saying "us white people."

Here is a good history of the Euro monetary crisis: Euro zone history EU from a single currency to massive debt and unemployment.

                                 THE PUBLIC IDENTITY OF CHRISTIAN MEN

Finally, a Christian civilization capable of defending itself in the competitive world of armed male groups is built not just on marriage and family but the public bonds of the Apostolic Church and the nations. The poetic prose of Anthony Esolen reminds us in a pair of articles of the deep anthropological link of manliness and priestly vocations -- part one and part two. Everything the Providence professor teaches us about the male priesthood has some correlate to civic life and masculine citizenship.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Franz Schubert's unfinished symphony

Grab a beer -- and listen to this opening movement of the 8th Symphony: "packing more tragedy and pathos... than most composers could work into an entire composition."

If you're low on Vienna lager, make sure you listen to at least the first seven minutes!

Schubert only completed two movements, but the work is often regarded as the first Romantic symphony. The lyrical refrain is captivating; its initial appearance is before the 2:00 mark.


This blogger ably explains his life-long enthusiasm for the Austrian composer. 

Schubert barely made it into his thirties, before dying in 1828. He is buried next to Beethoven who had passed away the previous year.

[Thus, Franz Schubert lived during the years that Napoleon repeatedly vanquished the Austrian forces -- and then annulled his childless marriage with Josephine to wed the daughter of the Austrian emperor. "Despite this union, Napoleon's father-in-law declared war on him in 1813" (after Mother Russia and Ol' Man Winter annihilated the Grande Armée the year before). In the spring of 1814, Paris fell and the French emperor abdicated.]

Monday, February 9, 2015

Map on Monday: African Islamist Militant Groups

by A. Joseph Lynch

The map above depicts the area of operations for the three leading Islamic terrorist organizations in Africa, along with the relative geography in which they operate. One may find it useful to compare this map to a civilizational fault line map in order to see where Islamic north Africa meets the Christian south.

Northern Africa is religiously dominated by Islam and geographically dominated by the Sahara and Sahel (the lands in which the desert transitions to the Sudanian Savanna; Sahel comes from Arabic word sāḥil meaning coast as the plant life of the Sahel acts like a coast for the "waters" of Saharan sand). It is in this area that the terror group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operates. Its usage of the term Maghreb refers to the lands of northwest Africa from Libya to Mauritania. AQIM has raised 90% of the $50 million in the last decade through ransoms. Originally a Sunni Salafist movement, the group joined with Al Qaeda in 2007 and continues to be a threat in northern Africa.

Fighting to overthrow the Nigerian government is Boko Haram. Also going by the name Nigerian Taliban, the goal of Boko Haram is to install a new government in which Sharia Law is the law of the land. Here it is important to remember that Nigeria is a microcosm of the African continent with a predominantly Muslim north and a Christian south. Boko Haram operates in the northeast corner of Nigeria but also has immediate access to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

Along the eastern coast of Africa is the nation of Somalia and the terror organization Al-Shabaab operating in its south. Meaning "The Youth", Al-Shabaab's name recognizes the young, male demographic that fills its 7000-9000 member ranks. Like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab seeks to impose Sharia Law on those within its control - and like AQIM, Al-Shabaab merged with Al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab is, however, a clan-based organization that leaves it without any central command structure. In addition to its internal divisions, Al-Shabaab has local ambitions within Somalia and is therefore not seeking wider aims within Africa itself.

In addition to the terrorist organizations operating in northern Africa, this area is also used for drug and arms smuggling out of Latin America and Asia.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, February 7

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


Jan 25, 2015, President Obama became the first US President to visit India twice in his presidency.  Meeting personally with the key Asian nationalists is one of the best ways President Obama can solidify his "pivot to the East." Their most important agreement renews American cooperation in building nuclear power plants in India. The actions of the president in coming to India's Republic Day were far more impressive than his sermon speech in which he again laid out his ideal of a gender neutral, religiously muted public life as the best road to prosperity and peace.


Frontlines in Ukraine (January 13, 2015)
The next site of contention to draw new borders between Ukraine, the Eastern Oblasts (Provinces), and Russia is the coastal city of Mariupol. I have read at least ten stories about the city, none of them ever explaining the ethnic or language or religious affiliations of the population. Ethnically, the half million people are 48% Ukrainian and 44% Russian. It is 90% Russian-speaking. The city is a significant coastal connection between Crimea and Russia in the Eastern Donetsk Oblast between them. 


The new Greek government (with other nations to follow) has protested against the EU blaming Russia for the violence. The nations right and left are asserting themselves against the bureaucrats. Russia, meanwhile, has begun reinforcing three pivotal geopolitical frontlines: the Arctic, the Crimea, and Kaliningrad. Russia is also cultivating its friendship with the Orthodox nation of Greece. The long history of shared culture and religion binds Greece much more closely to Russia than to EU/NATO western Europe. The Greek economic and political crisis may see it look increasingly to Moscow rather than to Brussels.