Thursday, June 23, 2011

Drawdown in Afghanistan – will populism again trump victory?

By Uwe Siemon-Netto

President Barack Obama’s decision to set a timeline for the withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. forces from Afghanistan against the advice of his generals begs the question: Will populist reflexes inevitably prevent democracies from winning wars of long duration?

One of democracy’s most determined antagonists came to this conclusion 60 years ago. North Vietnamese defense minister

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara exchanging recollections of the Vietnam War with his past foe, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, in 1997. / AP

declared that “the enemy,” meaning the West, “does not possess … the psychological and political means to fight a long-drawn-out war.” Fighting the French and later the Americans, he based his whole strategy on this insight – successfully, as we now know.

In all likelihood, Giap explained, public opinion in the democracy would demand an end to the “useless bloodshed,” or its legislature will insist on knowing how long it will have to vote astronomical credits without a clear-cut victory in sight. This is what eternally compelled democratic politicians to agree to almost any kind of humiliating compromise rather than to accept the idea of a semi-permanent anti-guerilla operation, he added.

In a cartoon in The Oregonian newspaper, Jack Ohman recently sketched a hand drawing dotted lines mapping “The Way out of Afghanistan.” The last image of this political comic strip showed the contours of Vietnam next to a briefer saying, “UM.”

Given General Giap’s statement about the political-psychological shortcomings of the democratic system when faced with an inconclusive military operation, Ohman’s analogy was frighteningly accurate. Once again, we keep hearing the term, “war fatigue,” though not in reference to the military but to civilian populations far, far away in the United States where 56 percent of the Americans demand a U.S. troop withdrawal as soon as possible.

Once again, maligning local allies as corrupt has become fashionable, so as if Western politicians were paragons of honesty. Once again, wordsmiths craft smarmy euphemisms for defeatist courses of action. In the Vietnam days the slogan was “peace with honor,” today it is “responsible peace” (Obama), although there was nothing honorable about handing over South Vietnam to totalitarian aggressors, from whom millions fled with many drowning in the South China Sea. And there would be nothing honorable in surrendering Afghanistan once again to fanatics manifestly belonging to the global Islamist movement that is determined to subjugate the world to its hideous faith.

Jack Ohman’s analogy was correct as far as it went. But I wonder if in a future cartoon he would remind the Oregonian’s readers of how the Vietnam story continued, for example with “reeducation camps” where hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese were interned, starved and subjected to unspeakable pain; thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the United States are still suffering from the effects of torture inflicted on them during communist captivity decades ago, according to a recent study led by Harvard psychiatrist Richard F. Mollica. This is a story you can only read in a student publication; the mainline media did not consider it newsworthy.

Mr. Obama spoke of his desire for peace negotiations in which the Taliban should be included. Before Saigon fell in 1975, there were also “peace negotiations” with Hanoi and the Vietcong. In the end, the Communist invaders vanquished the democratic half of their country. It is not hip to say that South Vietnam was a democracy, albeit a flawed one. It had one of the most elegant constitutions and, fighting for its survival, conducted admirably free elections while back home in the U.S.A. hordes of Boomers marched through the streets waving Vietcong flags and shouting “Ho-Ho-Ho-Chi-Minh.”

So now “peace talks” have again become the mantra. But peace talks with whom? With insurgents believing that they are under God’s command to impose their system on the whole world? What concessions can we expect from such interlocutors? That they proceed at first gingerly in whipping and stoning their women should they dare to drive, study, leave their husbands or, Allah forbid, resist arranged marriages at an age when others have just stopped toddling? Knowing the Taliban’s past, I marvel at the Western women’s movement atypical restraint when pondering the possibility; hypocrisy is of course another feature of populism.

One can be grateful that comparison between Vietnam and Afghanistan ends when it comes to the treatment of returning warriors. Four decades ago they were badmouthed, called baby killers, abandoned by wives and girl friends, even asked not to attend their home churches in uniform; this was a time when America truly showed its ugly side.

Today this is not the case, thank God, but it seems that once again populists, driven by the growing impatience of their home front, might deprive their military from completing their mission victoriously. If so, populism will trump democracy. The consequences will be much more dire than in Vietnam. There the adversaries were Marxists, belonging to a movement that soon imploded worldwide. In Afghanistan the foe is a radical strain of a religion with a 1,400-year history and global missionary aspirations, though they are currently in the defensive, just like the Vietcong after the Têt Offensive of 1968. Still, they might yet succeed. How? Read General Giap.

Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, is conducting a lecture tour related to the 50th anniversary of the erection of the Berlin Wall, which he covered as a young reporter of The Associated Press. For information, contact: He has been an international journalist for 54 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto currently directs Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Irvine, California.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Homobonide twaddle, the cause of Robert Gates’ frustration


Who is to blame for Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ frustration with NATO? In one word: Homobonides.

You don’t know what Homobonides are? Not to worry. I have just made up this term, translating the sardonic German expression, Gutmenschen, into English with a little help from Latin.

So what are Gutmenschen? Not really “good people,” as you might falsely assume after splitting this composite word into its two component parts. There are and always have been truly good people in Germany, of course, for example Helmut James von Moltke, whose farewell letters from a Nazi prison to his wife, Freya, have just been released. Moltke explained why he was facing the gallows: “Not as a Protestant, not as a landowner, not as a nobleman I stood before the [People’s] court, but as a Christian, and none other.“ That was a good man writing, not a Gutmensch.

Or take that retired West German army captain I met in a Jaffna restaurant during the civil war in Sri Lanka. He had come at his own expense to clear landmines, a benevolent activity that had already cost him the use of one eye in Angola. You find plenty of this kind of good Germans, particularly overseas – good men and women, not Homobonides.

Homobonides are the European incarnation of political correctness, originally an American affliction. Homobonides make pronouncements that sound good until you start to think. They talk a lot about peace, for example, not in a theological, historical or pragmatic sense but solely because of the word’s heartwarming properties. It’s this constant kitschy reference to peace that has caused defense budgets in Europe to decline thus rendering NATO military irrelevant, according to Gates, who predicted in his valedictory speech in Brussels a dismal future for the alliance.

Homobonides don’t believe in the Latin adage, “sic vis pacem, para bellum” (if you want peace, prepare for war), if in their appalling lack of historical knowledge they have ever heard of it. If Homobonides ever thought responsibly about the future, they would by definition cease to exist; therefore they don’t dare to. Let’s enjoy our prosperity here and now and let our children fend for themselves; that’s their motto.

The poster girl of German Gutmenschentum is the Rev. Margot Kässmann, 53, Lutheran bishop of Hanover and chairwoman of the state-related Protestant Church in Germany until she resigned last year, having been caught careening around town at the wheel of her Volkswagen Phaeton office car with a blood alcohol level of 0.154.

This resignation, seen as an act of valor rather than the necessary consequence of misconduct, has since made her Germany’s idol by giving speeches and churning out books filled with moralistic clichés, which literary critic Denis Scheck wickedly rated as “Eiapopeia-Prosa,” or lullaby baby prose. Misogynists have noted that women above the age of 50 make up the majority of her acolytes; if true this would be a troubling observation, given the successes of past German populists especially among this segment of the population.

Before giving up her bishopric last year she stepped into the splendid pulpit of Dresden’s baroque “Frauenkirche” (Church of Our Lady) and proclaimed, “Nothing is good in Afghanistan,” which was not a sensitive thing to say given that German soldiers are fighting and dying valiantly in that country. It was also a thoroughly un-Lutheran statement. Lutherans are not pacifists, and they especially object to “cooking and brewing” secular and spiritual matters together, which according to Luther is the devil’s work. Luther called preachers doing this “false clerics and schismatic spirits.”

But Dr. Kässmann knows what she is doing. She is catering to Europe’s Homobonide Zeitgeist, which is pacifist, thus gradually elevating herself to a position of the opposition Social Democrats’ foremost intellectual, according to the newsmagazine, Focus.

And so at the recent “Kirchentag” in Dresden, a meeting of 120,000 Protestants, she piled on some more gobbledygook. Instead of bombing the Taliban, she told a cheering crowd, we should pray with them. Now that’s rich coming from a pastor whose own career displayed an infatuation with the idea of female empowerment.

Let’s not belabor the fact that in the eyes of churches representing 70 percent of world Christendom, including this writer’s branch of Lutheranism, a female bishop is an ontological absurdity, kind of like the pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1994 movie, Junior.

But imagine NATO followed Kässmann’s advice. Imagine the Taliban, spared allied bombing, returned to Power in Kabul. Imagine they picked up from where they had left off a decade ago. Imagine an “Afghan Margot Kässmann,” perhaps named Maha, elevated herself to the rank of a Muslim Mufti, left her husband and were caught driving drunk through Kabul with an unidentified man an her side, and then suggested praying with infidels. From what we know about the Taliban’s past behavior, what would happen to poor Maha on Friday after church?

I pondered this question with a specialist on Islamic law computing the number of lashes she might first receive at Kabul’s sports stadium: 80 for having learned how to read and write? 99 for driving a car? 150 for drunkenness? As for her presumption of being cleric-in-chief, praying with infidels, and allowing an unknown guy so close to her, there’s no question of what would happen after that: They would stick her into a hole in the ground and lob rocks at her head until she is dead.

The good news is that in Germany even the liberal media are souring of Homobonide hypocrisy, to wit Der Spiegel’s admonition to Margot Kässmann to remember the Decalogue. Here is how this normally left-of-center newsmagazine paraphrased the Eighth Commandment to fit ex-bishop Kässmann and fellow Homobonides: “Du sollst keinen scheinheiligen Stuss reden.”

In English: “Thou shalt not talk sanctimonious twaddle.”

Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, is conducting a lecture tour related to the 50th anniversary of the erection of the Berlin Wall, which he covered as a young reporter of The Associated Press. For information, contact: . He has been an international journalist for 54 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto currently directs Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Irvine, California.