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Where We Stand Now By: Paul Kengor
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 06, 2007

Dr. Paul Kengor of Grove City College's Center for Vision and Values recently interviewed Ralph Peters about the situation on the ground in Iraq. Peters is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming April 12-13 conference, “The De-Christianization of Europe: From Nicaea to Nietzsche." -- The Editors.


PK: I can’t pass up the chance to ask you about the situation in Iraq, which you know as well, if not better, than anyone. Are we losing?

Ralph Peters: We’re not losing, but we’re not winning, either. The situation is dire, but not yet hopeless. To me, the real tragedy is that the situation in Iraq did not have to come to this pass—the amateurish mistakes the administration insisted on making in 2003 and early 2004 did much to create the atmosphere of violence, lawlessness and unleashed hatreds we see today. I supported, and still support, the removal of Saddam Hussein. I only wish the administration had been less arrogant, had listened to the military, and had done it competently.

We’re now faced with possible failure. The current surge (which may prove too small) is our last chance, given our domestic political environment. General Petraeus, the new commander in Baghdad, is doing the right things at last, but the situation may prove irremediable. We just don’t know. Yet, the stakes are so high that we all should support this last effort. Even should things go our way—and there are some positive signs, the first in a year—we’re not going to get the ideal situation for which we hoped; that said, there’s still a chance of a far more benign Iraq emerging.

Nor are we the only party to blame for the current, unnecessary mess. Once again, the Arab people, within Iraq and without, have failed themselves horribly. Their pettiness, their embrace of corruption, their social structures and their taste for internecine feuds and religious intolerance all have led them to make a hash of this unprecedented opportunity to build one rule-of-law democracy in the Arab world. Arabs have an ineradicable genius for failing themselves.

Now the best for which we may hope is that Iraq will muddle through to an acceptable level of rehabilitation. The only consolation is that, given the awful state of Middle-Eastern civilization overall, such a muddling through would almost equal a triumph. It’s very difficult to muster any optimism about the greater Middle East, where the culture of blame precludes a culture of progress.

PK: It has become almost a cliché, even among Bush supporters, to concede that “mistakes were made” in the prosecution of the war. What were these mistakes?

Peters: The mistakes are legion. To cite only a few: Not enough troops early on; the unwillingness to impose security in the streets after Baghdad’s fall (the administration feared the media would carp about any crackdown); trusting partisan émigrés who had narrow, selfish agendas; turning Iraq into a looting orgy for U.S. contractors; the refusal to listen to military advice in wartime; forbidding the military to plan for an occupation; failing to field a unified chain of command; the hubris of sending young, inept party hacks to Baghdad for brief, ticket-punch stints to reconstruct a complex country; the lack of seriousness about defeating the insurgency early on; the lack of resolve to kill Muqtada al-Sadr when he began his campaign of assassinating our allies; disbanding the Iraqi military and government, thus putting idle young males out of work and on the streets; allowing private security contractors to alienate the Iraqi population; and the general lack of courage and will in the administration after Baghdad fell—the dog caught the fire truck and didn’t know what to do with it. President Bush did a noble thing, but did it inexcusably badly.

PK: President Bush has recommended a troop surge. Do you think that’s the right move?

Peters: I would have preferred no troop surge, or a larger troop surge. I’m concerned that we’ve sent enough troops to make a tactical, but not a strategic, difference. Nonetheless, I support the “mini-surge” because of what’s at stake. General Petraeus is the best man we’ve got for this situation. He’s got a fighting chance—but the real question is whether the Iraqis will step up to the plate. The foreign terrorists, Sunni insurgents and Shia militiamen are willing to die for their beliefs. If other Iraqis, in decisive numbers, will not risk their lives for a constitutional government—and they may not, given their culture—it just won’t work. Ultimately, for all of our efforts, we can only put the training wheels on the bicycle, but the Iraqis have to ride the bike themselves. Iraqi security forces are improving, but we honestly don’t know if they’ll improve sufficiently—and quickly enough.

PK: The Democratic leadership in Congress has authorized a timeline for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Vice President Dick Cheney says that informing the enemy of a deadline for withdrawal is a fatal move because the enemy will know that it merely needs to wait out the deadline before launching a major offensive or resurgence. Do you agree?

Peters: I agree entirely with the vice president on this issue, but he’s lost all credibility with the American people and his words no longer register. Senator McCain is a far more convincing voice to most Americans.

For all of my criticisms of the administration, the congressional Democrats are worse.Both parties are in appalling disarray, and the American people deserve better leadership on both sides of the political aisle.

That said, imposing a deadline for the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq amounts to a surrender. Period. Set a date, and you send our enemies the dual message that we’ve lost our will to fight and win, and that they only have to bide their time and we’ll turn over the keys.

PK: As we criticize the Bush effort in Iraq, are we lacking a historical appreciation of how long it requires to stabilize a society—any society—after a major war? Consider our own American experience: it took decades before we had a stable democratic system, and France took even longer than that. We still have U.S. troops in South Korea and Germany—over 50-60 years after wars in those countries—and in the Balkans and elsewhere. Not to suggest that we not criticize President Bush, but are we holding the Bush administration to an unreasonable standard that doesn’t conform to historical experience?

Peters: The Bush administration defeated itself in this regard. Men who had never served in uniform—who had disdained military service—refused to seek military advice, having convinced themselves that anyone with an Ivy League degree could make war more effectively than the generals. Their arrogance was insufferable.

In Germany and Japan, our enemies knew they’d been defeated beyond all hope of recovery. In Iraq, the Sunni Arabs who formed the core of Saddam’s support never felt the war directly—it occurred largely in the Shia south and partly in the north, with the Sunni-Arab center untouched. Then we failed even to show up in the Sunni-Arab cities with a demonstration of force and we declined to impose martial law—which is essential at the outset of every occupation.

The administration’s enemies are holding it to an unreasonable standard in expecting the total defeat of insurgents and terrorists in an abbreviated time-frame—but the administration did make the situation worse than it had to be.

Finally, we do not know what the future holds. Historical developments are rarely linear.No matter what becomes of Iraq in the short-term, the process of change which we ignited in the Middle East—which had to be triggered, given the disastrous condition of the region—may lead to surprisingly positive developments in a quarter-century or so.Or the results could be a plunge into the abyss. The only thing about which I feel certain is that we had to jump-start change. On that count, I give the Bush administration great credit. I only wish the administration’s key insiders had been competent at waging war and mounting an occupation—their ideals were fine, but their performance could hardly have been worse.

PK: Now to Europe, the subject of our conference: What is your sense of the status of Christianity there? Do you agree that it is not merely in decline, but, in many ways, under attack? If so, how is it under attack? Who or what is attacking it?

Peters: To me, the question is whether Christianity in Europe is irrevocably in decline, or merely in abeyance and waiting to return. Religious faith has never been a constant—it’s cyclical. The great religious revivals of the 17th century (here, I mean the Puritans, dissenters, etc.), 18th century (Wesley and his peers), and the 19th century in England were all reactions to a breakdown in personal faith and public morality. We idealize the past, forgetting that humans have always strayed (and often with great enthusiasm).

That said, a key difference today is that, while states favored religious belief in the past, today governments have fled from any meaningful identification with Christianity (even where “Christian” is part of a political party’s name). Enforced secularization at the hand of bureaucrats educated to leftist biases has done much to discredit religion in Europe.

And yet, faith is unkillable. While Europe exudes the bleak odor of atheism today, I don’t think it would take all that much to re-excite faith—perhaps greater confrontation with Muslim immigrants, or a pandemic … or simply a reaction to the current anomie afflicting individuals and their societies.

I look at the entire globe as I attempt to understand Europe, and what do I see?Evangelical fervor sweeping much of Latin America, a reawakened yearning for spirituality in China (to the great alarm of the bureaucrats in Beijing), the mighty Christianity of sub-Saharan Africa (syncretic, yes, but so is European Christianity), and even the religious fever scorching the Muslim world…. All of this suggests that Europe is not eternally immune to faith.

Whether we approach religion as transcendental reality or merely as the most effective survival mechanism ever developed by human collectives (a key point Darwin and Spencer missed), it’s clear that it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. And centuries of faith cannot be fully erased in a few generations—the problem at present is that, although the Europeans have disavowed God, they’ve retained the intolerant self-righteousness of the sort of fanatics who give religion a bad name. Today’s Europeans are Inquisitors without a cause.

PK: Is a clash of civilizations indeed taking place in Western Europe? Rather than a clash between the forces of Christendom vs. the forces of radical Islam is the clash instead between Islamists vs. post-Christian European secular elites?

Peters: No European state—not one—has a functional model for integrating immigrants from different cultural and religious backgrounds. This is, indeed, a clash of civilizations. Europe’s secular elites are, in fact, the last to get it. The average Frenchman or German or Englishman understands that the situation is dysfunctional, but the governing elites insist on pretending that all will be well—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And, of course, there’s blame on every side. Immigrants don’t want to assimilate, but neither do Europeans really want them to assimilate. The miraculous North American model, in which “America makes Americans,” has no counterpart in Europe. And for all their pacifist masquerading, Europeans remain really good haters—you can still smell the smoke of the ovens of Auschwitz.

PK: You made a very interesting point at our last conference, which you will be discussing at this conference: You said that, given Europe’s often brutal track record of dealing with ethnic minorities, we should not be surprised if these “high-minded” Europeans suddenly get real ugly with the Muslims in their midst. Could these people crack down on Muslims? And is that already happening?

Peters: The hatred is already there, just waiting for trigger events—such as a wave of terror attacks—to operationalize it. Native Europeans despise Muslims, while Muslim immigrants despise Europeans and their values (and the Saudis continue to fund the exacerbation of hatred and the deepening of social divisions). As I’ve said many times, Europe is the continent that perfected genocide and ethnic cleansing—and that has exported more man-wrought death than any other continent. We still identify too readily with Europe because Europeans look like (most of) us. But American civilization and European civilization are profoundly different and ever more divergent. When I look at the situation in France, for example, where both the native-born and the immigrants behave insufferably, my reaction is, “A plague on both their houses.”

The Islamists are, in fact, correct that Europe is culturally degenerate. I don’t mean this in the moral sense—people are people, with the same urges everywhere, and all puritanical societies are hypocritical societies; rather I find Europe spiritually and ethically degenerate—but that leads us back to the potential for a new “Great Awakening.”

PK: This is, of course, all speculation, but if such a crackdown took place, what might it look like? How violent could it get? Perhaps most interesting, how might America and the rest of the world react? Could we face a stunning situation where one day America feels compelled to come to the rescue of persecuted Muslims in Western Europe?

Peters: I have no difficulty imagining a scenario in which American naval vessels and U.S. Marines are in European ports to evacuate Muslims expelled from their countries of residence. Compounding the tragedy, Muslim countries would attempt to refuse to repatriate them, precipitating a wave of consequent crises. The Muslims of Europe may end as the 21st century’s displaced persons, a mass without a home, confined to holding camps, etc. Of course, there are many other less-dramatic potential scenarios. But one does sense that Europe’s Muslims are living on borrowed time. Good Lord, consider how thoroughly the Jewish middle classes had integrated into Europe over the centuries—and virtually every European state happily packed them off to Bergen-Belsen.

PK: You are a military historian, and a talented and insightful one whose predictions are often right on the mark. So, I will ask this bluntly: Could there eventually be a war in Western Europe between native Europeans and Muslim immigrants? What type of war—wars of jihad in certain countries, continental-wide war?

Peters: I’m a student of history, but would not presume to call myself a historian. I’m interested in how history works, not in compiling footnotes.

There may be abortive, if lurid, Muslim uprisings in Europe—it all depends on how a very complex equation plays out—but if there are, they will fail miserably and swiftly. There will be no Eurabia. Jihad in Europe is doomed. There will be no continent-wide war, although each country would be glad for an excuse to participate in continent-wide repression. When their welfare is sufficiently threatened, Europeans will return to form as heartless killers and ethnic cleansers.

Perhaps Europe will muddle through. Historically, muddling through is humankind’s usual response. But the portents are not good—and the demagogues on both sides are at work. Overall, I see the behavior of Muslim radicals in Europe as suicidal. But, then, we’re dealing with a fanatic fringe whose members regard death as a promotion. They’d be perfectly happy to take innocent Muslims—and there are many innocent Muslims—with them.

PK: Do you feel that the characterization of 21st century Europe as a kind of eventual “Eurabia” is apt? Could parts of Europe one day be governed by Sharia law?

Peters: There is zero chance of Europe becoming Eurabia or of parts of Europe being governed formally by Sharia law. The whole Eurabia/“the-Muslims-are-taking-over” hysteria is nuts. Even if Swedes will no longer fight for Lutheranism, by God, they’ll kill without remorse to keep their saunas.

PK: Thanks for talking to us, Ralph.

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Paul Kengor is author of The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperCollins, 2006) and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

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