Monday, March 21, 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, March 19

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


A CHRISTIAN CASE FOR TRUMP: Dr Pence on protecting sacred goods and the use of force.

A PRESIDENT WHO UPSET THE PARTY: "America has never seen a presidential candidate like this before. Detractors point to his lack of political experience, his poor grasp of policy, his alleged autocratic leanings and his shady past. They believe this man without much of a political platform (but with interesting hair) has neither the qualifications nor the temperament to be president. Yet in defiance of conventional wisdom, he is leading his three main rivals in the race for the White House, and party bigwigs are at a loss how to respond. No, it’s not Donald Trump. His name is Andrew Jackson, and the year is 1824." Read a lesson from Andrew Jackson.

UNDERSTANDING THE NEOCONS  Their last ditch effort to support Marco Rubio  and their threat to support Hillary Clinton reveals the neocons' last stand.

REPUBLICANS AND HIGH-TECH EXECUTIVES -- A CONSPIRACY AGAINST A MOVEMENT: The Sea Island meeting of the super rich and super scared. They gather against Donald Trump. Pat Buchanan's analysis.

CAMILLE PAGLIA ON TRUMP/CRUZ: "Trump is a blunt, no-crap mensch, while Cruz is a ham actor, doling out fake compassion like chopped liver. Cruz’s lugubrious, weirdly womanish face, with its prim, tight smile and mawkishly appealing puppy-dog eyebrows, is like a waxen mask, always on the verge of melting."

THE RACES BENEATH THE RACE - DO YOU HEAR THE DOG WHISTLE? Bernie Sanders wins the Arab Michigan vote arguing for a level playing field in the Mideast. Senator Sanders will do much better with the black Northern vote than in the South. Why is that? The answer might lie in differences in the perception of northern and southern black communities about Jewish involvement in slavery. This seldom discussed bias could inhibit southern black support for a Jewish candidate.



RECOVERING THE NATION AS THE CHRISTIAN FORM IN EUROPE: The best synthesis of our argument that nations are essential anthropological and Christian public forms has now been made by a Frenchman. We have read several of Pierre Manent's books on the nature of political agreement. We attended a conference in his honor at Baylor University. But never have his writings been as clear as this. First Things essay on the essential Christian nature of the nation in the identity of Europe.

U.S. BACKS SAUDI ARABIA IN WAR AGAINST SHIITES IN YEMEN - HOW AND WHY: Good NY Times article explaining how the US came to support the Saudi assault on Shia rule in a neighboring state.

HARVARD FINDS A WAY TO STOP SEXUAL VIOLENCE: Expel students who join all-male groups.

CATHOLICS DETERMINING WHO IS FIT TO SERVE: The great crisis in the American Catholic Church is the huge homosexual subculture poisoning our priesthood and episcopacy. The New York tale is getting uglier. Don't wait for George Weigel and Robert George and other conservative Catholic public intellectuals to declare these men "unfit to serve" in their offices. The Catholic intellectuals who were so sure that Donald Trump is unfit to serve as a Republican candidate have always shied away from the personnel side of the great Church scandal of their time. The sexual perversions which allied Catholic chanceries with the gender ideologues of the Democratic party was a truth these men could not tell. Thus, the moral weight of their public letters and joint declarations shrinks when men of gravitas appear. They shriek in horror at Donald Trump. They whisper their critiques against Pope Francis. But the well known sexual deviants and moral cowards who cling to sacred offices in the Catholic Church have no worry of confrontation by name from this peculiar kind of "public intellectual."


Here are some revealing excerpts from an excellent long article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. The author has tried to "enter into his mind." For those who find it sufficient to despise president Obama there is no reason to enter into his mind. For those who would understand him, he tells a lot here about himself and about Washington.

The President's decision to back off from the use of force against Syria's Assad came after the use of chemical weapons seemed to cross a previous presidential "line in the sand." Obama was heavily criticized inside and outside of his administration, but considers it one of the best things he didn't do.
Obama also shared with McDonough a long-standing resentment: He was tired of watching Washington unthinkingly drift toward war in Muslim countries. Four years earlier, the president believed, the Pentagon had “jammed” him on a troop surge for Afghanistan. Now, on Syria, he was beginning to feel jammed again.

When the two men came back to the Oval Office, the president told his national-security aides that he planned to stand down. There would be no attack the next day; he wanted to refer the matter to Congress for a vote. Aides in the room were shocked.

The president asked Congress to authorize the use of force—the irrepressible Kerry served as chief lobbyist—and it quickly became apparent in the White House that Congress had little interest in a strike. “I’m very proud of this moment,” he told me. “The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”

This was the moment the president believes he finally broke with what he calls, derisively, the “Washington playbook.”

“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”
The Syria decision showed Obama's judgment was more reality-based than the "foreign policy establishment" (the same group who have come out so unanimously against Donald Trump):
I have come to believe that, in Obama’s mind, August 30, 2013, was his liberation day, the day he defied not only the foreign-policy establishment and its cruise-missile playbook, but also the demands of America’s frustrating, high-maintenance allies in the Middle East—countries, he complains privately to friends and advisers, that seek to exploit American “muscle” for their own narrow and sectarian ends. By 2013, Obama’s resentments were well developed. He resented military leaders who believed they could fix any problem if the commander in chief would simply give them what they wanted, and he resented the foreign-policy think-tank complex. A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders. I’ve heard one administration official refer to Massachusetts Avenue, the home of many of these think tanks, as “Arab-occupied territory.”
President Obama's 'Long Game': tilt toward Asia (the new geopolitical center of gravity), pay attention to Africa and South America, don't get caught in the Mideast; climate change is real.
I’ve spent several hours talking with him about the broadest themes of his "long game" foreign policy, including the themes he is most eager to discuss—namely, the ones that have nothing to do with the Middle East.

“ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States,” he told me in one of these conversations. “Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it.”

He started by describing for me a four-box grid representing the main schools of American foreign-policy thought. One box he called isolationism, which he dismissed out of hand. “The world is ever-shrinking,” he said. “Withdrawal is untenable.” The other boxes he labeled realism, liberal interventionism, and internationalism. “I suppose you could call me a realist in believing we can’t, at any given moment, relieve all the world’s misery,” he said. “We have to choose where we can make a real impact.” He also noted that he was quite obviously an internationalist, devoted as he is to strengthening multilateral organizations and international norms.

I asked Obama about retrenchment. “Almost every great world power has succumbed” to over-extension, he said. “What I think is not smart is the idea that every time there is a problem, we send in our military to impose order. We just can’t do that.”

“He applies different standards to direct threats to the U.S.,” Ben Rhodes says. “For instance, despite his misgivings about Syria, he has not had a second thought about drones.” Some critics argue he should have had a few second thoughts about what they see as the overuse of drones. But John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, told me recently that he and the president “have similar views. One of them is that sometimes you have to take a life to save even more lives. We have a similar view of just-war theory. The president requires near-certainty of no collateral damage. But if he believes it is necessary to act, he doesn’t hesitate.”

President Obama did not come into office preoccupied by the Middle East. He is the first child of the Pacific to become president—born in Hawaii, raised there and, for four years, in Indonesia—and he is fixated on turning America’s attention to Asia. For Obama, Asia represents the future. Africa and Latin America, in his view, deserve far more U.S. attention than they receive. Europe, about which he is unromantic, is a source of global stability that requires, to his occasional annoyance, American hand-holding. And the Middle East is a region to be avoided—one that, thanks to America’s energy revolution, will soon be of negligible relevance to the U.S. economy.

Advisers recall that Obama would cite a pivotal moment in 'The Dark Knight,' the 2008 Batman movie, to help explain not only how he understood the role of ISIS, but how he understood the larger ecosystem in which it grew. “There’s a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting,” the president would say. “These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order. Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. ISIL is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That’s why we have to fight it.” The rise of the Islamic State deepened Obama’s conviction that the Middle East could not be fixed—not on his watch, and not for a generation to come.

But he has never believed that terrorism poses a threat to America commensurate with the fear it generates. Even during the period in 2014 when ISIS was executing its American captives in Syria, his emotions were in check. Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s closest adviser, told him people were worried that the group would soon take its beheading campaign to the U.S. “They’re not coming here to chop our heads off,” he reassured her. Obama frequently reminds his staff that terrorism takes far fewer lives in America than handguns, car accidents, and falls in bathtubs do.

The president also gets frustrated that terrorism keeps swamping his larger agenda, particularly as it relates to rebalancing America’s global priorities. For years, the “pivot to Asia” has been a paramount priority of his. America’s economic future lies in Asia, he believes, and the challenge posed by China’s rise requires constant attention. From his earliest days in office, Obama has been focused on rebuilding the sometimes-threadbare ties between the U.S. and its Asian treaty partners, and he is perpetually on the hunt for opportunities to draw other Asian nations into the U.S. orbit. His dramatic opening to Burma was one such opportunity; Vietnam and the entire constellation of Southeast Asian countries fearful of Chinese domination presented others.

In Manila, at APEC, Obama was determined to keep the conversation focused on this agenda, and not on what he viewed as the containable challenge presented by ISIS. Obama’s secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, told me not long ago that Obama has maintained his focus on Asia even as Syria and other Middle Eastern conflicts continue to flare. Obama believes, Carter said, that Asia “is the part of the world of greatest consequence to the American future, and that no president can take his eye off of this.”

“Right now, I don’t think that anybody can be feeling good about the situation in the Middle East,” he said. “You have countries that are failing to provide prosperity and opportunity for their people. You’ve got a violent, extremist ideology, or ideologies, that are turbocharged through social media. You’ve got countries that have very few civic traditions, so that as autocratic regimes start fraying, the only organizing principles are sectarian.”

He went on, “Contrast that with Southeast Asia, which still has huge problems—enormous poverty, corruption—but is filled with striving, ambitious, energetic people who are every single day scratching and clawing to build businesses and get education and find jobs and build infrastructure. The contrast is pretty stark.”

In Asia, as well as in Latin America and Africa, Obama says, he sees young people yearning for self-improvement, modernity, education, and material wealth.

“They are not thinking about how to kill Americans,” he says. “What they’re thinking about is How do I get a better education? How do I create something of value?”

He then made an observation that I came to realize was representative of his bleakest, most visceral understanding of the Middle East today—not the sort of understanding that a White House still oriented around themes of hope and change might choose to advertise. “If we’re not talking to them,” he said, referring to young Asians and Africans and Latin Americans, “because the only thing we’re doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then we’re missing the boat.”
Rethinking friends and foes: the treaty with Iran, the narrow enemy in Islam, allies as enablers. His analysis of society is atheistic and feminist at its core, seeing religion never in relation to God but as a kind of tribalism. He sees male-female relations as the most fundamental social construct.
To a remarkable degree, he is willing to question why America’s enemies are its enemies, or why some of its friends are its friends. He overthrew half a century of bipartisan consensus in order to reestablish ties with Cuba. He questioned why the U.S. should avoid sending its forces into Pakistan to kill al-Qaeda leaders, and he privately questions why Pakistan, which he believes is a disastrously dysfunctional country, should be considered an ally of the U.S. at all. According to Leon Panetta, he has questioned why the U.S. should maintain Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge, which grants it access to more sophisticated weapons systems than America’s Arab allies receive; but he has also questioned, often harshly, the role that America’s Sunni Arab allies play in fomenting anti-American terrorism. He is clearly irritated that foreign-policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally. And of course he decided early on, in the face of great criticism, that he wanted to reach out to America’s most ardent Middle Eastern foe, Iran. The nuclear deal he struck with Iran proves, if nothing else, that Obama is not risk-averse.

“It is very clear what I mean,” he told me, “which is that there is a violent, radical, fanatical, nihilistic interpretation of Islam by a faction—a tiny faction—within the Muslim community that is our enemy, and that has to be defeated.”

He then offered a critique that sounded more in line with the rhetoric of Cameron and Hollande. “There is also the need for Islam as a whole to challenge that interpretation of Islam, to isolate it, and to undergo a vigorous discussion within their community about how Islam works as part of a peaceful, modern society,” he said. But he added, “I do not persuade peaceful, tolerant Muslims to engage in that debate if I’m not sensitive to their concern that they are being tagged with a broad brush.”

He also believes that the intensified Muslim fury of recent years was encouraged by countries considered friends of the U.S. In a meeting  with Malcolm Turnbull, the new prime minister of Australia, Obama described how he has watched Indonesia gradually move from a relaxed, syncretistic Islam to a more fundamentalist, unforgiving interpretation; large numbers of Indonesian women, he observed, have now adopted the hijab, the Muslim head covering.

Why, Turnbull asked, was this happening?

Because, Obama answered, the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs have funneled money, and large numbers of imams and teachers, into the country. In the 1990s, the Saudis heavily funded Wahhabist madrassas, seminaries that teach the fundamentalist version of Islam favored by the Saudi ruling family, Obama told Turnbull. Today, Islam in Indonesia is much more Arab in orientation than it was when he lived there, he said.

“Aren’t the Saudis your friends?,” Turnbull asked.

Obama smiled. “It’s complicated,” he said.

Obama’s patience with Saudi Arabia has always been limited. In his first foreign-policy commentary of note, that 2002 speech at the antiwar rally in Chicago, he said, “You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East—the Saudis and the Egyptians—stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality.” In the White House these days, one occasionally hears Obama’s National Security Council officials pointedly reminding visitors that the large majority of 9/11 hijackers were not Iranian, but Saudi—and Obama himself rails against Saudi Arabia’s state-sanctioned misogyny, arguing in private that “a country cannot function in the modern world when it is repressing half of its population.” In meetings with foreign leaders, Obama has said, “You can gauge the success of a society by how it treats its women.”

His frustration with the Saudis informs his analysis of Middle Eastern power politics. At one point I observed to him that he is less likely than previous presidents to axiomatically side with Saudi Arabia in its dispute with its archrival, Iran. He didn’t disagree.

“Iran, since 1979, has been an enemy of the United States, and has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, is a genuine threat to Israel and many of our allies, and engages in all kinds of destructive behavior,” the president said. “And my view has never been that we should throw our traditional allies”—the Saudis—“overboard in favor of Iran.”

But he went on to say that the Saudis need to “share” the Middle East with their Iranian foes. “The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians—which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen—requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace,” he said. “An approach that said to our friends ‘You are right, Iran is the source of all problems, and we will support you in dealing with Iran’ would essentially mean that as these sectarian conflicts continue to rage and our Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own, and would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.”
His lesson from Libya -- and the great paradox of integrating women in war planning -- is that most feminist advisers are hawkish advisers.
But what sealed Obama’s fatalistic view was the failure of his administration’s intervention in Libya, in 2011. That intervention was meant to prevent the country’s then-dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, from slaughtering the people of Benghazi, as he was threatening to do. Obama did not want to join the fight; he was counseled by Joe Biden and his first-term secretary of defense Robert Gates, among others, to steer clear. But a strong faction within the national-security team—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, who was then the ambassador to the United Nations, along with Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, and Antony Blinken, who was then Biden’s national-security adviser—lobbied hard to protect Benghazi, and prevailed. (Biden, who is acerbic about Clinton’s foreign-policy judgment, has said privately, "Hillary just wants to be Golda Meir.") American bombs fell, the people of Benghazi were spared from what may or may not have been a massacre, and Qaddafi was captured and executed.

But Obama says today of the intervention, “It didn’t work.” The U.S., he believes, planned the Libya operation carefully—and yet the country is still a disaster.
Obama on Latin America: don't inflate the adversary - moving beyond the Cold War paradigm.
Obama then cited America’s increased influence in Latin America—increased, he said, in part by his removal of a region-wide stumbling block when he reestablished ties with Cuba—as proof that his deliberate, nonthreatening, diplomacy-centered approach to foreign relations is working. The ALBA movement, a group of Latin American governments oriented around anti-Americanism, has significantly weakened during his time as president. “When I came into office, at the first Summit of the Americas that I attended, Hugo Chávez”—the late anti-American Venezuelan dictator—“was still the dominant figure in the conversation,” he said. “We made a very strategic decision early on, which was, rather than blow him up as this 10-foot giant adversary, to right-size the problem and say, ‘We don’t like what’s going on in Venezuela, but it’s not a threat to the United States.’ ”

Obama said that to achieve this rebalancing, the U.S. had to absorb the diatribes and insults of superannuated Castro manqués. “When I saw Chávez, I shook his hand and he handed me a Marxist critique of the U.S.–Latin America relationship,” Obama recalled. “And I had to sit there and listen to Ortega”—Daniel Ortega, the radical leftist president of Nicaragua—“make an hour-long rant against the United States. But us being there, not taking all that stuff seriously—because it really wasn’t a threat to us”—helped neutralize the region’s anti-Americanism.
Another Cold War residue: the interviewer surprised - Obama and Putin:
The president’s unwillingness to counter the baiting by American adversaries can feel emotionally unsatisfying, I said, and I told him that every so often, I’d like to see him give Vladimir Putin the finger. It’s atavistic, I said, understanding my audience.

“It is,” the president responded coolly. “This is what they’re looking for.”

He described a relationship with Putin that doesn’t quite conform to common perceptions. I had been under the impression that Obama viewed Putin as nasty, brutish, and short. But, Obama told me, Putin is not particularly nasty.

“The truth is, actually, Putin, in all of our meetings, is scrupulously polite, very frank. Our meetings are very businesslike. He never keeps me waiting two hours like he does a bunch of these other folks.” Obama said that Putin believes his relationship with the U.S. is more important than Americans tend to think. “He’s constantly interested in being seen as our peer and as working with us, because he’s not completely stupid.
Back to Asia: A peaceful rise of China is his approach, not Clinton's or the foreign policy establishment.
What country does he consider the greatest challenge to America in the coming decades? “In terms of traditional great-state relations, I do believe that the relationship between the United States and China is going to be the most critical,” he said. “If we get that right and China continues on a peaceful rise, then we have a partner that is growing in capability and sharing with us the burdens and responsibilities of maintaining an international order. If China fails; if it is not able to maintain a trajectory that satisfies its population and has to resort to nationalism as an organizing principle; if it feels so overwhelmed that it never takes on the responsibilities of a country its size in maintaining the international order; if it views the world only in terms of regional spheres of influence—then not only do we see the potential for conflict with China, but we will find ourselves having more difficulty dealing with these other challenges that are going to come.”

Many people, I noted, want the president to be more forceful in confronting China, especially in the South China Sea. Hillary Clinton, for one, has been heard to say in private settings, “I don’t want my grandchildren to live in a world dominated by the Chinese.”

“I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China,” Obama said. “I think we have to be firm where China’s actions are undermining international interests, and if you look at how we’ve operated in the South China Sea, we have been able to mobilize most of Asia to isolate China in ways that have surprised China, frankly, and have very much served our interest in strengthening our alliances.”
Finally, Obama on the destructiveness of tribalism. Again. this journey "inside his mind" applied across a wide range of historical events shows remarkably well his understanding of religion, male-female relations, and social structure.
One of the most destructive forces in the Middle East, Obama believes, is tribalism—a force no president can neutralize. Tribalism, made manifest in the reversion to sect, creed, clan, and village by the desperate citizens of failing states, is the source of much of the Muslim Middle East’s problems, and it is another source of his fatalism. Obama has deep respect for the destructive resilience of tribalism—part of his memoir, Dreams From My Father, concerns the way in which tribalism in post-colonial Kenya helped ruin his father’s life—which goes some distance in explaining why he is so fastidious about avoiding entanglements in tribal conflicts.

“It is literally in my DNA to be suspicious of tribalism,” he told me. “I understand the tribal impulse, and acknowledge the power of tribal division. I’ve been navigating tribal divisions my whole life. In the end, it’s the source of a lot of destructive acts.”
He may be our first Scandinavian president.
Obama has always had a fondness for pragmatic, emotionally contained technocrats, telling aides, “If only everyone could be like the Scandinavians, this would all be easy.”

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday BookReview: Let Russia be Russia

Peter I (1672 - 1725)

Recently I read some comments of Nicolay Karamzin, an early 19th-century poet and historian -- which gave me a much clearer understanding of Russia's first emperor. For most of us growing up in the West, we reflexively cheer Peter the Great as the man who dragged his benighted nation into the rosy dawn of modernity.

Here is the excerpt from a Catholic World Report essay:
Following writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and N.M. Karamzin, [Solzhenitsyn] tends to interpret modern history as a struggle between those who would preserve Russia’s spiritual integrity and those who would impose Western culture upon the motherland. It is no coincidence that the most frenzied and destructive characters in Dostoevsky’s 'Crime and Punishment,' 'Brothers Karamazov,' and 'Demons' are those most intoxicated with trendy European ideas. Nor is it a coincidence that in his 'Memoir On Ancient and Modern Russia' Karamzin, fervent monarchist though he was, ventured to make a negative evaluation of the celebrated Peter the Great. “We became citizens of the world,” said Karamzin regarding Peter’s campaign to Westernize his empire, “but ceased in certain respects to be the citizens of Russia.” To Karamzin the Europhile sovereign’s heavy-handed attempt “to transform Russia into Holland” reflected more zeal than prudence. 
Solzhenitsyn went further and openly detested the reformist tsar, for he doubted that Peter had really appreciated anything about Western culture aside from its most superficial trappings: wealth, glamor, gunpowder. The Petrine program had caused Russian elites to abandon their roots, and had even set the stage for Bolshevism. How could those incapable of relating to their own people hope to understand those of faraway lands?

Robert Massie won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for his biography of the emperor. Here are some portions of a reader's review:
When Peter came to power in 1689 (at the age of 17), Russia was a huge but sparsely populated, backward and landlocked country. The capital was Moscow, an interior city of wooden buildings and many churches. The army was not well-trained or equipped, and there were no naval forces to speak of. To the extent Russia had territorial ambitions, they were basically directed in a southerly direction to lands controlled by the Ottoman Empire. 
So what did Peter do in the next 36 years? He launched a remarkable campaign to import ideas, technology and experts from the leading countries of Europe (especially the Netherlands and England where he personally resided for a period of time along with other Russians sent on a “great embassy” to Western Europe). And these assets were used to modernize the army, build a navy (not world class, but still formidable) from scratch, and found a new national capital (St. Petersburg) in a marshy area near the Baltic Sea (seized by force of arms) where Peter spent most of his time when he was not off fighting wars. As a result of these accomplishments, the status, capabilities, and historic course of Russia were altered in a fundamental way. 
Peter didn’t have a wise mentor while he was growing up, nor a world-class education (basically he was allowed to study things that interested him). He was blessed with enormous energy and at the unusual height of 6 feet 7 inches tall, he cut a commanding figure. He was intensely curious about how things worked, and had an atypical belief (in the Russian culture) that people should start at the bottom and work their way up instead of assuming roles based on their social status. This even held in his own case, for Peter would periodically assume subordinate roles (as an industrial apprentice during the great embassy period, or lower level commander in a military campaign) – just so long as everyone remembered that he was also the Russian tsar and not to be trifled with. Last but not least, Peter had an innate love for boats and the sea. But for these characteristics, he would hardly have steered his country in the direction that he did – which certainly was not what most Russians were expecting... 
[Peter encountered] plenty of resistance, both within Russia and beyond its borders, including a protracted war with King Charles XII of Sweden who had ambitions of his own that included turning the Baltic Sea into a Swedish lake and taking Moscow. 
Mr. Massie tells the story masterfully, step by step, weaving in all sorts of fascinating details. But as he acknowledges at the end: "He was a force of nature, and perhaps for this reason no final judgment will ever be delivered. How does one judge the endless role of the ocean or the mighty power of the whirlwind?”

A few excerpts from a more extensive review:
The reader is introduced to a number of other historical figures such as Louis XIV of France, and Charles XII of Sweden -- Peter's great nemesis. The book is also something of a travelogue, as the reader is swept into Peter's Great Embassy to Europe, onto the high seas, up and into the Great Northern War, and into the swampy site upon which Peter built the jewel in his crown, the City of St. Petersburg. Finally, Massie addresses Peter's legacy and the impact his life had on Russia and Western Europe. The author's emphasis throughout is the significance and force of Peter's personality, and how his indomitable will changed Russia forever... 
One amusing story deals with Peter's determination to travel abroad incognito and live as an ordinary workman. On one occasion while traveling in Holland, the Tsar was annoyed to be offered a grand hotel room. He noticed that in the corridor outside his room, some of his retainers were sleeping on the floor, wrapped in bearskins. Peter approached one of them, who was sound asleep, and kicked him till he awoke. "Quickly, quickly, I want to sleep there," the Tsar insisted, and "...threw himself on the warm bearskin and went to sleep." 
The section on the Great Embassy is possibly the liveliest and most fascinating in the book. The reader is taken along on a rollicking tour of Western Europe, where Peter learns to build ships, to dance, make cheese, extract teeth, and -- along with his entourage -- leave an elegant London home (that was loaned to him) in a manner that would make a modern day rock band proud. 
Peter is described as constantly seeking to be treated as just a regular man, insisting he be addressed as "Carpenter Peter," "Master Peter," or "Captain Peter," depending upon which occupation he was engaged in at the time. Anyone who addressed him as "Your Majesty," or "Sire" was ignored. 
Very nearly every aspect from each period in Peter's life is examined and discussed in ways that are not just informative, but culturally enlightening. From English King William's cultural shock when he experienced Peter's Russian-style climate control (windows sealed shut to the point of stifling) and the English sovereign's resulting asthma attack, to Peter's cleverly crafted methods of dealing with his half-sister, the intelligent and ever-scheming Regent Sophia... 
During Peter's first crossing of the English Channel, he insisted upon climbing aloft to have a good look at the rigging. This occurred during a heavy storm. The ship pitched and yawed as Peter climbed ever higher... 
Massie takes great pains and many pages describing minute detail of military strategy, battles, and the founding of St. Petersburg, yet he all but ignores Peter's personal relationships, the one exception being his mother, who is touchingly portrayed... 
[One] weakness of Massie's 934-page opus has to do with the common assumption that it was Peter the Great who broke open a window to Western Europe and dragged his countrymen through it, out of utter barbarism, and into civilization. 
The author made no mention of western forays into Russia as early as Ivan the Great. True, it was nowhere near the magnitude that occurred under Peter's rule, but never once does Massie directly point out that it was the foundation laid by his predecessors that spurred him to action. Much is made of the young Peter's friendships with the residents of Moscow's German Quarter, but no reason for his interest in foreigners is given. 
Peter the Great is a tour de force. It is also a story that deals with an awakening, whereby a man of high station but little education (though possessing an exceptionally strong desire for learning) seeks out and fulfills his curiosity, and lives his life as a great adventure. He was also a despot ["who cut off his subjects' heads as zestfully as he cut off their beards"]... Both sides of Peter's personality played a role in all that he would accomplish.

St Petersburg statue of the monarch who loved ship-building

Here are some quotes from Mr. Massie's section on the Great Embassy:

"He was fascinated by the Quakers. He went to several Quaker meetings and eventually met William Penn... They talked in Dutch... [Later] Peter declared to his followers that 'whoever could live according to such a doctrine would be happy.' " (211)

"The Dutch sailed their smaller, round-nosed warships against the larger, heavier English ships with such bravery and seamanship that Holland became the only nation ever consistently to defeat the British navy." (190)

One of the leading bishops of the Church of England had this impression of the young Tsar:
"He is a man of very hot temper, soon inflamed, and very brutal in his passion; he raises his natural heat by drinking much brandy..." (210)

"The Russians, it was whispered by the foreigners among them, were really no more than 'baptized bears.' " (173)

UPDATE -- From an article by the journalist son of the late Reverend Alexander Schmemann:

"Obedience and ritual have ruled the Russian Church ever since the pivotal day in 988 when Prince Vladimir, ruler of Kievan Rus, ordered his people to be baptized in the Dnieper River. According to the legend familiar to every Russian, Vladimir had sent envoys abroad in search of a faith for his pagan nation.

"Those dispatched to Constantinople returned home awestruck by the Eastern Greek ritual they had witnessed in the Hagia Sophia, then the largest cathedral in the world. 'We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth,' they reported.

"The religion imported by Prince Vladimir shaped the Russian nation and was, in turn, shaped by it. Orthodox monasteries became the spiritual, economic, cultural, and at times, defensive core of the nation. The churches that spread through Russia were awe-­inspiring in their magnificence and immutable in their ritual. To this day the language of the church is an archaic but mellifluous Old Church Slavonic. Priests in their glittering vestments are separated from the congregation by an elaborate icon screen, and choirs sing most of the liturgy, often with hymns by Russia's greatest composers. For worshippers, the experience is as otherworldly as a Baptist service is direct and unadorned."

A TV mini-series was made about Peter the Great, starring Maximilian Schell.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Christian Realism & Christopher Dawson: the clash of civilizations

by David Pence

Samuel Huntington's 1993 book Clash of Civilizations argued that the end of the Cold War also ended a bipolar world of allies and enemies. The great clashes of the next century would  be along cultural and civilizational lines often determined by religion. He presented a world map and defined the civilizations. Here is a Charlie Rose interview with Professor Huntington.

And our 'Map on Monday' of the Huntington map with a succinct summary.

Must there be a clash, or can there be a dialogue, among civilizations? And is there a different, more Dawson-like, drawing of the civilizations which would link the Latin Americans, the West, and the Orthodox -- not as three different civilizations, but as three of five new manifestations of Christendom as a single religious culture spawning multiple civilizations. We will contrast this hardier Christian proposal in a later week. For now, it is important to appreciate the Huntington thesis as an important paradigm to make sense of the present alignment and civilizational fault lines among the nations.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sacred Goods and Protective Force: A Christian Defense of Donald Trump

by Dr. David Pence

Conservative Christian leaders George Weigel, Russell Moore, R.R. Reno, Robert George, and Mark Tooley have been unusually harsh and specific in their opposition to Donald Trump as a man "unfit" to serve as U.S. president. They were joined by over a hundred "members of the Republican national security community" committing themselves to "working energetically to prevent the election of one utterly unfitted for the office." Not since Andrew Jackson has a political candidate for president evoked such scorn from both the keepers of morality and the ruling elite. The Catholic anti-Trump statement depicted him as a demagogue (appealing to the peoples’ desires, not reason); vulgar (vulgus: Latin for common people); and oafish (a derogatory term for Irish country people). Come, let us reason together.

In his 1978 Harvard address, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said:
"Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges... [A] selection dictated by fashion...prevents independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life."
Mr. Trump is not presenting himself as a philosophical Christian. He is not a lifelong Republican. He is against abortion, not birth control. He is not running as a movement conservative. He is running for office as an American. For many of the oafish vulgar men of our land, he speaks for their public identity. They share with that very rich man a form of fraternity -- indeed, brotherly love. It is not defined by color, but by a shared duty to protect a common land. Like Catholics who argue that their communion table should be closed, these men argue that our borders should be closed except to those we open our doors to. "If you have no borders, you have no nation," said Trump. And for a certain kind of man, having a nation is a life-and-death identity with a family history. He is the kind of man whose father and sons defend the nation in all our wars. He is more likely to protect that sacred flag with his fists than campaigning for a constitutional amendment. He defends the right to free assembly in the same way.

Donald Trump is running as a protector of Christianity, not a model Christian. It doesn’t make him sad when he sees Christians beheaded -- it makes him angry. He will never riff on how Christian martyrs are the seed of the faith. He sees their deaths as a shame and rebuke to the rest of us Christian men.

"We are going to protect Christianity. I don’t have to be politically correct... We are going to protect Christianity, and if you look at what is going on around the world; you look at Syria ,where if you are a Christian, they are chopping off heads. You look at the different places and Christianity is under siege. I’m a Protestant, Presbyterian to be exact and very proud of it, and we have to protect because bad things are happening. Very bad things are happening and I don’t know what it is."

Mr. Trump is not a model Christian. He is a tribal Christian. He would never sign the unending statements of  principles that come from the "public intellectuals." But when push comes to shove, he will call Christians together as a fighting force. Or as he put it:

"We don’t band together, maybe. And frankly other religions are banding together and using it… here we have, if you look at this country it's gotta be 70 percent, 75 percent, some people say even more. The power we have to band together, we have to unify."

As for the national security experts, Mr. Trump feels no deference to those who cannot sort out friends and foes in the Mideast or the world at large. A Jacksonian foreign policy will define our enemies and build alliances to crush them. Mr. Trump is ready to seize the lost historical opportunity that followed the Reagan-Gorbachev accord. The baby boomer presidents and their foreign policy experts could not figure out how to welcome Russia back into the fraternity of nations after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr. Trump will propose treating the second strongest nuclear power in Christendom -- Russia -- as an ally. Pope Francis has responded to  the crisis of Christian persecution by meeting with the Russian Patriarch after 1000 years of division. When he met the Patriarch, he called himself not the Patriarch of the West but the Bishop of Rome. President Trump will meet Russian president Putin, not as the leader of a western coalition but as a fellow nation-man. He will ally with a fighting masculine Christian nation to defeat our enemies. He will feel little loyalty to an effete West emasculated by gender ideology and open borders.

Trump speaks well of Russia and poorly of the royal Saudis. The foreign policy think tanks (like the Clinton Foundation) -- flush with Saudi contributions -- will shriek. They will recall that when Donald Trump explained his going after "the families of terrorists," he mentioned the Saudi relatives of hijackers who flew out of the United States just before and after 9-11. Trump knows, as we all know, that the great majority of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudi. Everyone knows the Wahhabi form of  Salafist Islam is centered in Saudi Arabia. They are the ideological epicenter of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, and Boko Haram. What would Andrew Jackson do?

Those who behead our Mideast Christian brothers may soon wish America's intellectuals had been more successful in stopping the Christian nationalist Trump. Let that holy Russian believer, Solzhenitsyn, have the last word:
"A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life. 
"Should one point out that, from ancient times, declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?"

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, March 12

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


DID US KILL OMAR THE CHECHEN? Here is a profile of one of ISIS' top military commanders possibly killed in March 2016. Note, again, the role of Saudi-funded mosques in the radicalization of Muslims of Georgia and Chechnya. Note as well the recruiting power of charismatic men willing to fight and die for a cause.

DEAD NUNS AND A REVIVED ISIS IN YEMEN: Four sisters of the Daughters of Charity were killed by ISIS gunmen in Aden, as the Saudi war against Shiite Houthis of Yemen clears areas for Salafist Sunni expansion.

On the Israeli side, top officials have confirmed that Hezbollah continues to be one of the country’s top security threats and raised the possibility of a large-scale offensive against the group. “Iran is waging a war against Israel via proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon, who today poses the most serious threat to Israel,” said Israeli army chief Gadi Eizenkot, architect of the 'Dahiya doctrine,' named after a southern suburb of Beirut, which calls for a disproportionate use of force to achieve military objectives.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon went even further. “In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State,” he said during a conference at the Institute for National Security Studies last month. “Iran determines the future of Syria, and if it leads to perpetuation, Iranian hegemony in Syria will be a huge challenge for Israel.”

“Now Hezbollah has the ability to strike guided munitions across Israel; they can hit targets inside Israel — including central and southern areas — with increased accuracy, including command posts, airfields, and major economic targets,” said Jeffrey W.
THE REMARKABLE PEW SURVEY IN ISRAEL: Do almost half of Israeli Jews favor transfer or expulsion of Arabs from Israel? If you believe this incredibly enlightening Pew Survey you will see that about the same number of Israelis disagree. The differences between American Jews and Israelis, and the tremendous diversity inside of Israel makes this a fascinating study.

ETHIOPIA, EGYPT AND WATER: Daniel Pipes on (63% Christian, 34% Muslim) Ethiopia (population 90 million) high altitude source of 90% of the water of the Nile and Muslim Egypt (population 90 million), in serious need of more water to serve its growing population. The average water supply worldwide is 1,240 cubic meters/per capita. The minimum necessary is considered 1,000 cubic meters/person.


RELIGION AND US VOTING - THE UNCHURCHED AS THE MARGIN OF VICTORY: 2012 Presidential Vote by State and Religious Belief. Source: Exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research.

CONSERVATIVE CATHOLIC INTELLECTUALS ISSUE STATEMENT DEPICTING TRUMP AS THREAT TO REPUBLICAN PARTY AS A VEHICLE FOR CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING: In their statement a visceral disgust emanates which did not chastise Republican Rick Santorum when the pro-life champ played the anti-immigrant card against Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primaries. Nor from these intellectuals was there a similar emotional revulsion calling for the impeachment of the five Supreme Court judges who sacralized sodomy. And there was no paternal recoil from any of them when candidates Rubio and Bush welcomed the registering of their daughters in the Selective Service System. Not from any of this crowd has there been a willingness to discuss by name the "morally unfit" legion of homosexual priests and bishops who fill the chanceries of the Catholic church in America. But their moral opposition to Trump is deeply emotional and by name. (Let it be clear that having deep social emotions and naming villains by name is a necessary and positive good in public life).

At the heart of the intellectuals' complaint is that Mr. Trump might change the Republican party as a vehicle (though imperfect) of Catholic social teaching. If you think Mr. Trump is arrogant, wait till you hear the professors. High-tech corporate chiefs, the largely atheist Republican foreign policy establishment, the party chieftains who backed Bush and Rubio, the Fox News and talk-radio media are now joined by the Catholic intellectual conservatives. It might have been better for "public intellectuals" to present a Christian narrative of this redefining moment for our nation. This would acknowledge the utter failure of Republican/Democratic partisans to untie the present knot which prevents a Christian American polity from emerging to act in a world caught between the atheist gender ideology of the decadent West and the exuberant world movement of salafist jihadists. (That depiction is from an African cardinal who like Pope Francis has a very different assessment of our times than Ross Douthat and the old Catholic neocons). Instead, they post a preening statement to shun Mr. Trump's working class nationalist movement. A left-wing crowd showed their disapproval a week later in Chicago. They were a little more physical than the professors, which apparently was Mr. Trump's fault too. An Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics.


THE WEST WAVING SABERS AT CHINA: War With China - considerations of Australian military strategy. John Bolton and conservatives on threats versus diplomacy in relations with China.

BISHOP FABIAN BUSKEWITZ: An interview with a gallant bishop on gender ideology and sexual anarchy in which "a tiny minority of the human race is seeking not just tolerance but acquiescence and support for a perversion that is repulsive to natural human beings."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Our brother Taylor Marshall veered a bit off-track

"We Catholics must stop seeing our nations as 'our society.' We must create our own tribes of relationships. The nation, diocese, and parish are no longer the units of society. With the automobile and the internet, tribes can be created that transcend the nation, state, diocese, and parish."   (Taylor Marshall)
[Dr. Taylor Marshall is a great teacher and an internet phenomenon. He is a former Episcopalian priest, who converted to the Catholic Church with his wife in 2006. They live in Texas and have seven children. He is funny, honest, and an engaging teacher -- especially of all things Thomistic.]

What's your take on Taylor Marshall's invite to the virtual tribe?

David Pence: First let me praise him. Dr. Marshall started a kind of alternative Boy Scouts. He calls it "an adventure fraternal apostolate for Catholic men and their sons: The Troops of St George." He is not one of the "thin-chested orthodox." But his statement floored me.

Well, then, get back on your feet and answer the bro!

Pence: It is so utterly unmoored. Let me be brief. In a world besot with evil, organizing protective order is always about taking territory. That was true in Eden, and was the saving space on the Ark. We establish safe precincts where the family lives and the Church worships. The Church is apostolic, so the diocese defined by the physical presence of a bishop is the center of the Eucharistic body. A man can leave the Episcopal Church, but a Catholic can't opt out from the episcopal "overseer" of his diocese. The parish households led by priest fathers are part of this local Church defined in terms of the bishop. Only for grave reasons (and the state of our priesthood supplies many grave reasons) should a Catholic not remain a member of his territorial parish. Like your family members, they are dealt to you -- you don't pick them.
Meanwhile, Dr. Marshall, whether he recognizes it or not, belongs to the male protective communities called the city of Irving, the State of Texas, and most profoundly the American nation. I hope in the Catholic tradition he is teaching his troops of St George that as men they have a protective obligation to their city, state, and nation. These are political traditions which were instituted in the Christian soil of the Americas. Diocese and nation are not volitional communities like a web tribe. They are real and they make true claims on us all. I can't think of a statement more at odds with our whole project here in understanding a Catholic anthropology of territorial male groups. Those are exactly the groups he says are "no longer the units of society." Do you think Mr. Marshall has lost our address?

Can the good doctor make amends?

Pence: Taylor Marshall is self-reflective enough that I expect he will make some kind of clarification, though it would be best if it was a clarifying retraction. He is our sacramental and American brother temporarily deranged by the internet noosphere. He will return.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

CATHOLIC SOCIOBIOLOGY: A Notre Dame theologian on the Church

by David Pence

On Tuesdays at AOA we explore the theological communion that lies at the heart of Catholic sociobiology. Communion theology always begins in the Trinity and culminates in the Eucharistic Church. The theology of the body which springs from Communio Theology enriches our understanding of marriage. Our goal is to try to break through the resistance of academic Catholic theologians to deal seriously with an anthropology of public masculine communion at the heart of the Catholic priesthood. This would lead toward a fraternal understanding of public life, and an antidote to accepting the perpetual war of Social Darwinism as "realism." A fraternal understanding of the role of nations in salvation history will, of course, provide a much richer context in which the roles of the Church, Israel, and the nations unfold in the workings of Divine Providence.

The Notre Dame theologian John Cavadini, at 'Ethika Politika,' shows how the depth of the bonds of the Church extends to encompass the whole of the human species. Catholic Sociobiology at its finest.
Professor Cavadini with Pope Benedict

Speaking of ordered loves and bonds -- a lament on how the loss of religion leads to a loss of patriotism, especially in Europe. The nation is the protector of the Church and family. If nations disintegrate, the wall around the Temple is breached. In this article we are reminded that if the not-so-Christian but very patriotic Frankish military leader Charles Martel had not stopped the Muslims at Tours in 732 AD (exactly a century after the death of Muhammad), then the Christianizing work of his grandson Charlemagne (crowned by the Pope 800 AD) would not have been possible.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, March 5

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


THE NEW YORK TIMES TELLS THE BIGGER STORY OF LIBYA AND MRS. CLINTON'S ROLE: More than the failure of Benghazi, the cultural cluelessness that got us there.

A SHORT VIDEO HISTORY OF SYRIAN CONFLICT: Excellent ten-minute synopsis with video narrated by Max Fisher of Vox. The Russian strategy -- finding their own "moderates" to deal with. Russian history with the Kurds is a major component of its strategy in Syria and the Mideast.


US TROOPS TO HELP AGAINST BOKO HARAM: A government led by a Muslim ready to be helped.

A SUNNI-SHIA PRIMER: The differences in a good chart form.


POPE AND MEXICO: Pope, Dope, and Mexican cartels.

THE BIBLE IN ENGLISH: The Geneva Bible before King James kept the anti-Catholic footnotes and diagrams as prominent features. To be a Protestant Christian was to be a foe of the Whore of Babylon: Rome.

JOSEPH PIERCE - CATHOLIC CULTURE MAN: On Dragon Culture and Virgins. The West without the Church opts for Suicide.


AN UPDATE ON RUSSIA AND U.S. ON UKRAINE: Victoria Nuland and Russian minister.

THE NATION: A LEFTIST MAGAZINE IS RIGHT ABOUT RUSSIA/UNITED STATES RISKS OF NEW WAR: An interview with professor Stephen Cohen on the new Cold War.


BRITISH REFERENDUM TO LEAVE EU (BREXIT): Boris Johnson, the charismatic mayor of London, has added respectability and popularity to vote for exit from EU June 23 by Brits.


THE NEO-CONS WILL SUPPORT HILLARY: Robert Kagan, a neocon intellectual, now says in the open what a lot of Pat Buchanan conservatives have said will happen all along. The neoconservatives of the Weekly Standard who now have their champion in Marco Rubio, must soon admit that their next closest foreign policy ally is Hillary Clinton. This group of "conservatives" have never cared about the sexual inversion of the gender ideology. They are petrified of Donald Trump. Mr. Kagan, who now has endorsed the lady who gave us Libya. is married to the lady who gave us the Ukraine mess: Victoria Nuland. Even though Vicki was a Bush appointee, Hillary Clinton in proper feminist fashion was instrumental in aiding Nuland's career rise in the State Department. Mrs. Nuland played the pivotal role as our assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs in the collapse of diplomacy in the Ukraine. Kagan, with more than fifty other GOP neocons, signed an open letter against Donald Trump this week on War on the Rocks.

THINKING ABOUT THE DEMOCRATS: Great insight on Clinton Revolution. The new Democrats under Bill Clinton adopted Republican positions on trade and labor. Women and Hillary: a view from the leftist 'Nation Magazine'. Not really a surprise that Hillary Clinton feminism is for the government, university, and Wall Street upper middle-class beneficiaries of affirmative action for college educated. Sanders appeals to thousands of women who can't afford to be for Hillary.

UNDERSTANDING SANDERS: LABOR, ZION AND SOCIALISM - NOT SO MUCH ABRAHAM AND MOSES: An excellent biographical note by J. J. Goldberg of the Jewish magazine Forward. This is an honest explanation of the tradition which formed the worldview of Bernie Sanders - a socialism of the soil.

BUCHANAN ON CHINA, TRADE, AND TRUMP: Why was the Catholic thinker Pat Buchanan banished from so much of the intellectual discourse of the Republican party? Marginalizing Mr. Buchanan made the Fox News kind of conservative thought a lot less like thought. Mr. Buchanan has been a champion of the industrial working man vs. global free traders since he made his own conversion from the ideology many years ago. He sees in Donald Trump a Republican who will defend the productive base of the country and the men who do such labor.

TRUMP, KASICH, AND THE MARCH 3 DEBATE: In the March 3rd Republican debate, we learned a little more about the foreign policy stances of both John Kasich and Donald Trump. Governor Kasich "took a little trip around the globe" and gave a snapshot of his thinking. The friendly avuncular candidate suggested maritime posturing in the South China Sea against the coastal expansion of China while arming the Ukrainians against Russia.
"Now let's move over into the Middle East. The Egyptians, they know they're on their last legs there because of the attack from ISIS. The Jordanians are - - really have been our friends. They know that they are at risk. So do the Saudis. So do the Gulf states. They are our allies, really, or have similar aims, we need to bring them closer to us. Turkey a critical avenue to the Middle East. We have to bring them towards the West, and not towards the East."
Mr. Trump suggested three names he would listen to in foreign policy. None of these men have actually advised him.
I think Richard Haass (President of Council of Foreign Relations) is excellent. I have a lot of respect for him. I think General Keane (Chairman of Institute for study of War) is excellent. I think that there are -- I like Colonel Jacobs (Medal of Honor winner) very much. I think are really excellent but in the end it's going to be my decision.
Trump's hopes for Russia set him apart from the other candidates:
Putin said about me -- I didn't say about Putin -- Putin said very nice things about me. And I say very nicely, wouldn't it be nice if actually we could get along with Russia, we could get along with foreign countries, instead of spending trillions and trillions of dollars?
And finally Trump is becoming more explicit about the "families" involved in terrorism, especially the 9/11 attack. This is a not so veiled reference to the Saudis as the real perpetrators of 9/11.
Well, look, you know, when a family flies into the World Trade Center, a man flies into the World Trade Center, and his family gets sent back to where they were going -- and I think most of you know where they went -- and, by the way, it wasn't Iraq -- but they went back to a certain territory, they knew what was happening. The wife knew exactly what was happening. They left two days early, with respect to the World Trade Center, and they went back to where they went, and they watched their husband on television flying into the World Trade Center, flying into the Pentagon, and probably trying to fly into the White House, except we had some very, very brave souls on that third plane. All right?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday BookReview: Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich


Last year a book was published about Mr. Shostakovich (d. 1975) and the role his music played in the Leningrad siege during WWII: Symphony for the City of the Dead.

Here is part of a reader's review:
"We can trust no one. In a regime where words are watched, lies are rewarded, and silence is survival, there is no truth."
In September 1941, Hitler's forces moved against the Soviet Union in a bid to take the country's capital in Moscow and the historic city of Leningrad (now and previously St. Petersburg). 
So began one of the longest sieges in Western history. More than a million people died over the course of the years-long siege. Amazingly, despite crippling his own military from the top down and breeding a culture of such fear that officials preferred to make ill-advised decisions rather than risk contradicting him, Stalin and the Soviet citizenry held out. Faced with starvation, blitzkrieg attacks, and the continued severity and dangers of life in Soviet Russia, the residents of Leningrad held on. 
In the midst of this bleak landscape, music became an unlikely ray of hope. Varying wildly between a darling of the Communist party and one of its biggest perceived heretics, Dmitri Shostakovich was a composer known around the world. With threats everywhere from both the Nazis and his own government, Shostakovich would write a symphony to rouse the Soviet public during their time of need. 
The symphony would speak when the people feared to; it would mark all that was lost during the Communist Revolution and the Siege of Leningrad. It would give voice to sorrow and loss as well as hope and redemption. Shostakovich's symphony would offer common ground between the unlikely allies of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. This is the story of that symphony, the country that inspired it, the composer who wrote it, and the war that shaped all of them...  
M. T. Anderson offers a thoroughly researched look at a slice of WWII history that might not be familiar to many Americans. The book begins with the bizarre transport of Shostakovich's symphony (via microfilm) from the Soviet Union to the United States. After that prologue, the book is framed around Shostakovich's own life from his early childhood to his death. The book touches upon the Communist revolution and explores the composer's complicated relationships with his country and the Party. 
Anderson offers a strange mix of the bloody nightmare that was Communist Russia during the Siege of Leningrad and the optimistic hope of post-war Russia. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a fascinating example of the power of story -- especially the power of art and music -- as well as a thoughtful look at how the truth can be shaped in the telling. 

"It is the greatest disaster that has ever befallen any great city, and that includes Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all the contenders. You had in the winter of 1941 to 1942, when Shostakovich is writing this symphony — although he's been evacuated — something of the order of 1.2 million people died, and the vast majority of them either froze to death or starved to death..."


Some excerpts from a review of the book in an arts magazine:
The Siege of Leningrad deserves to be remembered for many reasons, perhaps the best reason is an unexpectedly inspiring one: in the middle of unfathomable wreckage and horror, the starving city rallied with a literally death-defying performance of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony. M.T. Anderson’s novelistic history tells the story of the siege of Leningrad and the heroic efforts of one of its native sons to keep it alive... 
After Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and rashly chose to invade the Russian front [June 1941], much of the country was caught off balance. Leningrad, a cultured and elegant city, suffered one horrendous tragedy after another. All the odds were against the likelihood of Leningrad’s survival: the Nazi army attempting to throttle the northern city into submission by means of the siege, Stalin’s initial indifference on account of the longer, bloodier battle to defend Stalingrad, his myopia as a military planner, and the fact that the city’s supply of food and raw materials was blown to smithereens early on, causing an eerily beautiful explosion in the sky. 
Anderson pays close attention to the seething, truly Kafkaesque policies of Stalinism, particularly for the artists and composers forced to live under censorship and constant scrutiny. A culture of paranoia and dread reigned supreme, where every word and deed was susceptible to being used as grounds for arrest and subsequent torture and/or execution. Family members spied on each other, going through their daily lives with forced smiles so as not to appear critical or disapproving of the power-that-be, lest the secret police start asking questions. 
After Stalin stormed out of a badly orchestrated performance of Shostakovich’s opera 'Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,' ominous editorials began appearing in the government-backed newspaper Pravda claiming that the anxious young composer might be guilty of the crime of so-called "formalism" and ought to watch his back. Shostakovich was subsequently called in to "the Big House" for questioning. Spending hours protesting his innocence, the interrogator told him to "think harder" and come back the following Monday, which the composer knew would be a death sentence. After an anguished weekend saying his final goodbyes to his wife and family, Shostakovich kept the appointment only to wait for hours in the lobby until he discovered after breathlessly inquiring that his interrogator had been arrested the day before and to please accept the state’s apology for the inconvenience. 
Dimitri Shostakovich was one of the leading composers of Leningrad’s vibrant music scene. His intensity and humble perfectionism established him early as a talent to watch, even though he ambivalently collaborated with some of the most revolutionary of the avant-garde artists of the time... Shostakovich’s music is sensitively and evocatively described, with a particular eye for the composer’s versatility and dry-eyed lyricism...
Against all odds, Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony was performed by a ragged assembly of Leningrad musicians who were quite literally starving to death, many of whom were barely able to hold up their instruments. The conductor’s hand trembled as he waved his baton. The symphony, a rousing and unsentimental masterpiece, was broadcast as a gesture of encouragement to the devastated people of Leningrad, an act of defiance aimed at the surrounding Nazi army, whose gunfire was echoed in the rhythms of the music itself. The sound of the advancing German army is represented in motifs that repeat, growing more and more intense, leading to a finish that is powerful but ironically not triumphalist, as the era’s official demand for patriotic aesthetics demanded. 
Considering how much was at stake politically, emotionally and militarily for all involved, the performance of the Seventh Symphony should rank highly on the list of greatest musical performances of the 20th Century. In Symphony for the City of the Dead, M.T. Anderson has brought his considerable novelistic skills to re-tell an engrossing piece of history that needs to be remembered...

Check out this video of Mr. Shostakovich at the piano, playing a couple minutes of his famous creation. 
Here is a performance by a Japanese orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

A trombonist for the Minnesota Orchestra, when asked his favorite composer: 
"I enjoy Shostakovich, especially his 11th Symphony... I like the raw power of this work. In general, there is an underlying tension in his music that takes a hold of you. There is a real life essence behind his music."
(In the link, don't miss the five-minute introduction by the host. He includes a clip of the composer speaking of patriotism: "For no musical work can exist without it.")

At his dacha