"Warburg in Rome" — I've read on in this James Carroll novel, much of it, so far, at any rate (I'm halfway through) set in or near the Vatican during and just after World War II. The novel does not lack for verisimilitude, far from. You never doubt that Carroll knows this terrain intimately, from the architecture of Vatican buildings and offices on through the protocols that govern all orders of the Catholic hierarchy. Carroll knows it historically, as well, including the efforts by some in that hierarchy, when Germany had clearly lost the war, to create a Catholic state to serve as a buffer against the atheistic Stalin, and to provide Nazi higher-ups with a way out, passports and safe haven, until the Reich might rise again.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Friday, September 26, 2014
ISIS has proclaimed itself to be is a new state, and beyond that, a caliphate. Let's for now agree the caliphate part, with its references to ascendant Islam, is at best aspirational.
But upshot ISIS does have has the money, arms and territory to qualify as a state, esp. in a Middle East where old definitions of statehood are in tectonic (I'd like to say quantum) flux.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Reading "Warburg in Rome" a recent novel by James Carroll. James Carroll is author of, among other things, "Constantine's Sword," an account of the historic swerve toward anti-Semitism by the Roman Empire, under Constantine, in league with the Papacy. Carroll remains a Catholic. I don't know he manages that, nor do I know how anyone remains any sort of professing true believer, though I know many who aspire or pretend to.
Carroll's Catholicism is exquisitely self-aware, self-conscious, and self-critical.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Maybe President Obama, reluctant warrior that he is, can, perhaps because of that, be an astoundingly nimble combatant. Maybe, for example, he can attack ISIS in Syria, as he just has, while sparing a few bombs for the new al Qaeda offshoot known as Khorasan, which, unlike ISIS, absorbed in crazed dreams of long-gone caliphates, is in fact targeting the United States, then pivot swiftly enough to parry Assad.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Are we heading for another GW Bush moment? Irreversible geopolitical catastrophe?
An editorial in today's NY Times (9/21/14) sensibly asked: "The Unlikeliest of Coalitions: Can Adversaries Become Allies to Fight ISIS?"
After summing up the formidable obstacles in the way of an American war aimed at the destruction of ISIS — a war that must orchestrate unity among historically fractious powers of the Middle-East, doesn't call on American ground troops, and did not engender more Islamist terrorism than it deters — the editorial concluded that things would go just fine provided that there were "some kind of political settlement in Syria, an inclusive government in Iraq and some reduction in the Sunni-Shiite tensions that created space for ISIS to grow."
Monday, September 15, 2014
The name of Machiavelli comes up in discussions of ISIS and the American response to it.
My view is that it would take someone with at least the skills of a Machiavelli to lead this new American intervention in the Middle East, which will involve attacking ISIS without working (openly) with either Shiite Iran or its Alawite ally Assad; getting Turkey on board while aiding the Kurdish Peshmerga; arming the Peshmerga against ISIS; inducing Saudi Arabia to cooperate with Qatar, though these two are at loggerheads with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Qatar for the Brotherhood, the Saudis against); getting Egypt’s General Sisi to do something vaguely useful so he can get back more American aide; urging/compelling Iraq's new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, not to be the second coming of Nouri-al-Maliki, whose treatment of Sunnis helped bring ISIS into being. . .
(Haven't even had cause to mention Israel and the Palestinians, have I?)
Jack Beatty has opined that the success of this new military intervention will require three miracles. I've counted more.
This new intervention will require the wiles of a Machiavelli and the fancy footwork of a Fred Astaire.
Such finesse is not the forte of American policy in the Middle East, is it?
And who do we have braying at Obama from the sidelines? John McCain, Dick Cheney, and Hillary Clinton.
Me, I wish Obama could have held off from doing "stupid stuff" just a bit longer. We've done "stupid stuff" a plenty. He might have extended the pause, since it's not clear we can do smart stuff.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Remember all that discussion, argument, flame-war, occasioned by the war in Gaza? Glad the war is over, and with it, some of the obsession. But key issues are as unresolved and as hot to the touch as ever.
I can't stand that Israel has just seized 1000 acres of West Bank land, while peace talks are going on in Cairo and before the proposed Hamas-PLA unity government has had a chance to take hold.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
We, the United States, can't wipe out ISIS. In fact, we helped create it when we invaded Iraq and disbanded Saddam's Sunni military. Those well-trained fighters have merged with Sunni fundamentalists and, according to all accounts, have provided ISIS with tough, seasoned military leadership.