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Who Are You Calling Dysfunctional? Wal-Mart Wins a Battle; The War Continues

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It's a War, Stupid

by Christopher Chantrill
July 17, 2006 at 4:33 am


THE CYCLE OF violence folks are out again. They are worried about the escalation of violence in the Middle East, that is to say, the current skirmish in the ongoing war between the people of Israel and the Iran-backed forces like Hisbollah and Hamas that want to eliminate the insulting outpost of western culture at the east end of the Mediterranean Sea. The violence could escalate into a regional war, they say.

What planet are they living on? The present conflict is the trial of the proposition: does Israel have a right to exist? For half a century the Arabs and the Islamists have insisted that the “Zionist Entity” must be destroyed. The conflict is not a cycle of violence. It’s a war, stupid.

A similar unreality is evident in “The End of the Bush Revolution” by Brookings fellow Philip H. Gordon. The reckless overextension of the first Bush administration is over, he is relieved to tell us, and the Bushies are now mending their fences with Europe. The “failure in Iraq and a decline in legitimacy and popularity abroad” has brought the Bush administration back to earth, and the “accidental revolution” in foreign policy after 9/11 has been replaced with a welcome realism—and business as usual.

The cycle of violence worriers and foreign policy establishment types want a quiet life. But they are finding it harder and harder to avoid lifting up their eyes from the diversions of a luxurious age to the reality of global forces contending to own the future.

To understand the present we must still turn to Lee Harris and his Civilization and its Enemies. Harris understands the war on terror as a global conflict between the cooperative western team and the eternal gang of ruthless men.

We could extend Harris’s analysis with the paleoanthropology of Nicholas Wade’s Before the Dawn. The traditional culture of humans going back to the great apes features the border raid: kill their males or plunder their villages.

But along the way humans have developed out of the primal gang the cooperative team. It is a better use of resources and it is more powerful. In the cooperative culture we have reduced male border raids to the stylized combat of professional sports and the grabbing of market share. The lust for plunder has been sublimated into the IPO and killings on Wall Street. Instead of the overweening village big man we have the overweening government expert.

During the last millennium this radical innovation in human culture spread out of its European heartland all over the world. And the world resisted it. But it could not resist for long, because the western way of competitive cooperation was so powerful. After heartrending convulsions South Asia and East Asia have submitted to the western way.

The western global breakout five hundred years ago was not a frontal attack. It was a vast turning movement made possible by the development of ocean navigation. By sailing around Africa the Europeans turned the flank of Islam and started playing divide and conquer with Indian princes in South Asia.

It was a risky scheme, attempted when Europe was weak and Islam was strong. Half a millennium later, the west is strong and Islam is weak, so you would think that the west should seek a decisive battle to end the conflict.

But the west does not want to destroy Islam. Instead like Henry IV we send out Sir Walter Blunt to parley with the hotheads and plead with them to “accept of grace and love” instead of shock battle.

Inside the velvet glove is always the mailed fist. The Bush administration cannot do other than oppose the gang culture of the Islamists. In the western way the ruthless violence of the primitive gang is is sublimated into the competitive cooperation of the market, and the old way of raid and plunder is rejected as wasteful and intolerable. And so, because the Islamist resistance to the western way seems to have developed into a full head of rebellion the president has properly called the west to resist and overcome it.

But the feckless scions of the west are frightened and annoyed by the call to arms. Like the appeasers of the 1930s they have convinced themselves that conflict is an aberration, a misunderstanding that can always, given sufficient nuance and diplomatic skill, be resolved in mediation by a trained facilitator. So it can, within the orbit of the west, between people of good faith. But outside the west life remains a border war of raids, cunning tricks, and a fight over resources as it has been for millennia.

Call it what you like, the conflict in the Middle East will continue until one side or the other gives up. It’s a war.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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